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|21 января 2007
NHL misses the point (again) // Minneapolis Star-Tribune
By Joe Starkey
Did you see Dallas Stars forward Patrik Stefan botch that breakaway against an empty net?
The NHL topped him.
The NHL ambushed its own All-Star Game, which happens to be its first All-Star Game since 2004. In other words, a critical opportunity for self-promotion.
But, wouldn't you know it, the NHL's "braintrust" blew off a busload of dynamic, young talent in favor of players such as 35-year-old faceoff specialist Yanic Perreault and underachieving winger Simon Gagne, who was 79th in the league in scoring as of Friday.
It's worse than a joke.
It's an old, bad joke.
With attendance and television ratings flat-lining or declining, and the New Jersey Devils once again threatening to choke the life out of the sport, the league missed the marketing equivalent of a tap-in goal and shot itself in the foot, instead.
Even if Wednesday night's All-Star Game in Dallas can only be found on something called Versus (that's a television network), the NHL should have seen to it that the likes of Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk, Buffalo's Maxim Afinogenov and the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin found roster spots.
Out West, L.A.'s Alexander Frolov and Vancouver's Sedin twins -- a made-for-TV story -- were eschewed in favor of players such as 36-year-old Blues winger Bill Guerin, who is 86th in the league in scoring.
Let's focus on Afinogenov, Malkin and Kovalchuk, because those three personify what the league supposedly wants to sell -- speed, youth and skill.
How could anyone with the power to choose players for a showcase event make that trio watch while Jason Blake and Justin Williams take center stage?
It's not like the NHL would have had to snub deserving candidates, either. Malkin, Kovalchuk and Afinogenov all have points-per-game averages superior to those of Eastern Conference reserves Blake, Williams, Gagne, Eric Staal and 37-year-old Brendan Shanahan (notice, also, that eight of the nine Eastern Conference reserves are Canadian).
There is no rule that says the league must choose a player from every team, yet it went out of its way to give the Flyers a rep in Gagne, Phoenix one in Perreault and St. Louis one in Guerin. That'll be worth three more sets of eyeballs on Versus, I suppose, but isn't the idea to put the best possible product on the ice?
Oh, well, maybe it should come as no surprise the league butchered the selections, given that two of the men largely responsible for making them - director of hockey operations Colin Campbell and vice president of hockey operations Kris King - were butchers as players.
Three cheers for the fans, who voted Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin as Eastern starters. Even the NHL wouldn't have ignored those two, though it sent a terrible message by not suspending Blake for his gutless spear of Crosby the other night. Campbell probably believes Crosby needs to toughen up; never mind the welt on Crosby's stomach or the fact he is the league's centerpiece attraction and should be protected from premeditated attacks.
The league will get what it deserves Wednesday night if Blake spears Perreault on a faceoff.