Nashville gave the NHL’s All-Stars a warm welcome, staging an enjoyable weekend that mixed hockey, lively concerts and fan-friendly events within a compact downtown area. The new three-on-three tournament format was a winner, too, and players said they hope it returns. No doubt they’d also like to see the return of the $1-million prize for the winning team, which brought intensity to an event that had lost its relevance.
But the last plastic cup has been swept off Broadway, and John Scott is on his way back to the minor leagues with great memories, a car, and the designation of being the NHL’s first star of the week. The resumption of play Tuesday signals the run-up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, when teams must decide if they will be buyers for a Stanley Cup run or sellers who will jostle for draft-lottery position during the final weeks of the season.
The biggest decision belongs to the Tampa Bay Lightning, which hasn’t been able to agree on a contract extension with franchise center Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos said during last week’s All-Star media session he wants to stay with the Lightning, which won eight of 10 before the break.
“I’ve said this all along and I said it before the season started, I always envisioned winning a championship in Tampa,” he said. “Obviously, some of this stuff with the contract, that’s going to play out and whatever happens, happens.
“I’m the captain of this team and I have said from day one, I am the captain of this team and I want to win in Tampa. I love it in Tampa. We’ve got a great organization, a great owner, a great young team that can be competitive for a long time, and I want to be a part of that for sure.”
The Carolina Hurricanes, 7-2-1 in their last 10 games before the break but still outside a playoff spot, face a similar decision on Eric Staal, also potentially an unrestricted free agent. Do they keep him and hope he leads them on a playoff run, or do they trade him and rebuild?
As players return Tuesday, all seven Canada-based franchises are out of playoff spots. The Washington Capitals (35-8-4) comfortably lead the East and the Chicago Blackhawks (33-16-4) are tops in the West, helped by the Dallas Stars’ recent fade.
The San Jose Sharks (8-0-2) are in a playoff position but the Ducks (10-3-1) are not, though they’re only a few points behind. The imminent return of defenseman Cam Fowler (knee) will give the Ducks assets to possibly use in a trade for a scorer. Also, the Nashville Predators won their last four before the break and are battling for a West wild-card spot.
The Montreal Canadiens’ slide continues, and goaltender Carey Price (lower-body injury) isn’t ready to return. They were 2-7-1 in their last 10 games before the break. The Minnesota Wild, in a 2-6-2 slump, has dropped out of a West playoff spot. The Toronto Maple Leafs (1-7-2 before the break) are already looking forward to next season and their 100th-anniversary celebrations.
Mark your calendar
Don’t fret if you didn’t get your fill when the NHL locked out its players in 1994, 2004 and 2012. There’s a chance another lockout will be imposed when the current collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2021-22 season. That deal contains an opt-out clause for each side that can be exercised in September 2019.
“In all the cap sports in all of recent history, there has always been a lockout. Always, always, always, always, always,” Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players’ Assn., told the Chicago Tribune. “The reason why is that the clubs look at it and say, ‘We have nothing to lose. Fans aren’t going anywhere so we lock them out. The worst that happens is we end up with the same deal that changes a little bit, but maybe we get a big deal.’ The structure of the cap encourages labor strife. That’s my experience.”
So there’s that to look forward to.
• Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman is scheduled to have a hearing Tuesday concerning his cross-check of linesman Don Henderson last week. Wideman, apparently dazed after being hit into the boards by Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki, was skating to his bench but was blocked by Henderson and Wideman hit him hard across the back. The unsuspecting Henderson was fortunate to escape injury. Even if Wideman was unaware of what he was doing, the NHL must protect its officials. A 10-game suspension would be the right call.
• The NHL launched redesigned platforms for NHL.com, the NHL app and NHL.TV. The website is much easier to navigate.
• Goaltender Semyon Varlamov won’t start Colorado’s game against Chicago on Tuesday because he’s out of game shape after testifying in Denver District Court in a civil suit filed by a former girlfriend.