The 2017 NHL All-Star weekend is now in the rearview mirror, which means it’s time to return to normality and focus on the stretch run of the regular season.
All-Star Game numbers
The Metropolitan Division walked away with the cash from this past weekend’s NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament, and the NHL and NBC will be happy with the ratings that it produced in a special 100th-anniversary edition that included a special ceremony for the league’s top 100 players of all time.
On NBC alone, the All-Star Game garnered 2.262 million viewers, which is up 42% from last year’s game, which was televised on NBCSN, and rendered the highest ratings for the game since 2004, the last All-Star game before the 2004-05 lockout.
Including online platforms, the projected total viewership of the 2017 game was 2.28 million.
Of course, an increased viewership is good for the league, but it’s important to factor in the that this year’s game was on network television, not cable.
For some reason, people like to compare the NHL All-Star Game to the NFL Pro Bowl. The All-Star Game continues to trend upward and the Pro Bowl had it’s lowest ratings since 2006, but the Pro Bowl’s 4.6 overnight rating was just south of triple the 1.6 rating that the NHL’s product brought in.
The numbers are dramatically different, but for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t flaunt NFL numbers and compare them to NHL numbers. They are two entirely different beasts.
It was a fun weekend for the NHL that had a lot to offer. The NHL 100 ceremony was great, the Skills Competition was fun, and the 3-on-3 tournament was intense and entertaining to watch. The still-new format of a 3-on-3 tournament with a cash prize for the winning team is a win for the league in comparison to the high-scoring, low effort games that we’ve seen in the past.
The Islanders are closing the gap but have bigger fish to fry
Once a contender to finish with a top-three draft pick, the New York Islanders are now a true contender for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New York has rattled off three straight wins, including a 3-2 win over the league-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday, and are 7-2-1 over their last ten outings.
The firing of head coach Jack Capuano might have been the kick that this team needed. They are 5-0-1 since the organization decided to part ways with Capuano on January 17.
Franchise cornerstone and 2017 All-Star John Tavares has been the league’s hottest player since January 13, racking up eight goals and 14 points in nine games. His hot play has played a direct role in this huge turn around in Brooklyn.
Their playoff standing through early April will also rest on the shoulders of Thomas Greiss, who has risen to the top as New York’s starting goalie after the not-so-epic fall of Jaroslav Halak.
Given how absurdly tight the playoff race is in the East, they still have work to do.
The Flyers, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Hurricanes, and Devils are all going to make strong pushes for that final playoff spot along with the Islanders. Those six teams are all within five points and three games played of each other.
This is all good and well for the Isles, but their off-ice issues are stealing the headlines.
I mean, technically they are on-ice issues because it’s literally the ice they are playing on. Or maybe they aren’t on-ice issues and are just “ice issues” because the ice isn’t on the ice, it’s just the ice.
I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
The much maligned Barclays Center may no longer be an NHL arena as soon as the 2019-20 season. Sooner rather than later, the New York Islanders have to make an important decision to make - stay or go.
The Barclays Center, whose lease with the Islanders can be terminated after the 2018-19 season, has a capacity of 15,800 people for NHL games, the second smallest number amongst NHL teams. But there’s more to it than that. The arena was not made for hockey in the slightest and offers the league’s worst viewing experience with bad sightlines and weird obstructions throughout the arena. Barclays is also known for having sub-par ice quality. On top of that, it doesn’t help that the Isles are bringing in the league’s third-worst attendance.
Oh, and there’s a nonsensical and oddly placed SUV in the corner of the arena which has its own parody Twitter account, which is pretty hilarious.
Barclays Center higher-ups don’t think the situation is too funny, though. Last year, arena CEO Brett Yormark said there were no plans to change seating arrangements in order to help accommodate a respectable viewing experience.
So, if the Islanders decide not to try to convince the Barclays Center that they are profitable enough to keep, they have two options.
The first option is returning to Uniondale and their former home, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which they left ahead of the 2015-16 season. Since then, the arena has gone through big renovations. The Coliseum would now seat 13,000 people, which is too low by NHL standards, but arena executives say that seats can be added to accommodate the Isles.
The second option is to build a new arena. Efforts to pull this off in the past gained little traction and received very little support. The thought is that an arena would be built next to Citi Field in Queens or near Belmont Park in Elmont, but the MLS’ attempts to do the same thing with New York City FC has been shut down by city activists and officials, according to The New York Times.
The future of the Islanders is very much in question, despite their excellent play as of late.
A new regime in St. Louis
The Ken Hitchcock era in St. Louis has come to an end.
Hitchcock, who took over as head coach in St. Louis on November 8, 2011, is fourth all-time in regular season coaching wins, but he has come up short in the playoffs year in and year out in Missouri.
A 3-7-0 skid, capped off by a 5-3 loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday, was the final straw for St. Louis’ front office.
The most interesting part of this was what general manager Doug Armstrong had to say about the team following the move to part ways with Hitchcock.
"I think we've let our group become independent contractors," Armstrong said. "One of the things I've learned about being around St. Louis is the Cardinals. They don't have independent contractors; when they do, they get rid of them. We have a situation now where I trust these guys and I believe in them.
But I have a sense of independent contractors. When you see independent contracting going on on the ice, whether you're a fan or not, it's easy to see. What we have to do is we have to become a team again. We have to take pride in doing things for each other for the betterment of the team.
I see when we win how guys react when they don't get what they want. I see when we lose how guys react when they get what they want. It's a losing brand of hockey. And Ken is paying the price for it."
The Blues are two points behind the Calgary Flames for the second Wild Card spot in the West with three games in hand.
Colorado is historically bad
No matter how bad things are for your favorite hockey team, you can find solace in one thing - at least you’re not the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs’ horrid season has only gotten worse. They got shutout by the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, falling to 1-8-1 over their last ten games and 13-33-2 on the season.
Colorado is on track for 48 points this season, which would be the worst season from an NHL team in a full season since the Atlanta Thrashers, who no longer exist, finished their expansion season in 1999-2000 with 39 points. In just 48 games during the 2013 lockout-shortened season, 23 of 30 NHL teams finished with 48 points or more.
This team is truly awful, and no one really knows what they’re going to do.
All of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, and Semyon Varlamov have had their names thrown around in trade rumors, but the asking prices are reportedly very high for their services. Seemingly, the only safe players on their roster are Nathan MacKinnon and rookie Mikko Rantanen.
There’s no real end in sight to Colorado’s ineptitude. ESPN’s Corey Pronman ranked Colorado’s farm system 21st in the league going into the season, which is just a slight improvement from their 25th slot a year ago, and Rantanen, once their top-ranked prospect, has graduated into a full-time NHLer.
2016 tenth-overall pick Tyson Jost shows the greatest upside amongst a group devoid of depth. It’s a top-heavy farm system that only boasts a couple guys who project to be anything special in Jost and J.T. Compher who is having a good rookie year in the American league after capping off a Big Ten championship campaign in Michigan with a Hobey Baker finalist nod a season ago.
Perhaps Colorado would be wise to sell off their top-end guys in order to stock up their farm system. They won’t be contenders anytime soon.