Off the Top of My Head

Photo credit:Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 year ago
As lame as some aspects of the NHL All-star break can be – the half-assed effort by Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers on Sarah Nurse’s Peter Forsberg shootout move during the Tendy Challenge on Friday comes to mind as an example from this edition – there’s no use bitching. This is what it is.
The all-star game, to be held in Toronto in 2024, is a perk for advertisers and it’s a fun event for young fans who get a closer look at the stars, even if most of the players would prefer time off on a sunny beach somewhere to playing no-hit hockey 3-on-3 at three-quarter speed.
That said, hanging out in Florida over the weekend was a kick for Stuart Skinner, who represented the Edmonton Oilers along with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. A year ago, the 24-year-old from Edmonton wasn’t even a full-time NHL goaltender. Skinner spent most of the 2021-22 season on the AHL farm. He’s gone from the streets of Bakersfield to South Beach with the best in the business.
To understate in the extreme, everything is different for Skinner today. He has a new three-year contract, a newborn son at home and Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft will be leaning on him and Jack Campbell big-time in the final 32 games of regular season and into the playoffs. His story we know, and there’s much more to come.


“It’s pretty cool to see all the players and meet all of them. It’s been a blast,” Skinner said after the skills competition Friday. “Obviously, it’s a long road to get to where you want to go. Being able to be at the all-star game and see all these players, it’s the coolest thing.”
“Stu is a young guy and we asked a lot of him early on,” said McDavid, who won the shot accuracy contest Friday. “He’s played a lot and he’s handled it great . . . it’s really kind of fun to see. I actually remember meeting Stu before he was even drafted, I think, to the WHL and training with Gary Roberts, so I’ve known him for a really long time.
“Seeing him get drafted to the Oilers and kind of develop through that whole system, it’s been fun to see. To see him as an everyday NHLer, and an NHL all-star, it’s a pretty crazy evolution.” 


Jan 28, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by forward Leon Draisaitl (29) during the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
There were several stories during the break focusing on a 22 per cent decrease in U.S. national viewership of NHL games on ESPN /TNT compared to 2021-22. Games have averaged 373,000 viewers compared to 478,000 at this time last season. When you consider the population of the U.S. (330 million or so), having only 373,000 sets of eyeballs watching is a modest number. Not surprisingly, commissioner Gary Bettman takes issue with the TV numbers.
Is the regular season as entertaining as it used to be? What’s the level of fan interest 50 games into the schedule beyond maybe the scoring race before things heat up in the stretch drive? As for the post-season, do you like the playoff format in place now? What are the best rivalries? Have those rivalries waned?
In one item, broadcaster John Shannon suggested a 1-8 format in each conference and there is lots of fan support for that. For his part, Bettman says no format change is in the cards. How would the format look to you beyond what the matchups would be based on standings today? Then, knowing what a trigger start times can be for fans who think a game listed as starting at 7 p.m. should actually start at 7 p.m., there’s this: 
“Start times are another aspect of the game that the NHL needs to look at. In soccer, if a match is starting at 7 p.m., the ball is kicked off at that time. National Anthems are done and there’s no screwing around. If the league or team wants to have a ceremony, make it so it’s before the scheduled start time of the game. That will help the viewer at home know when the game is actually starting, and it’ll also get more fans in their seats before puck drop.”
I’m not sure what the buzz about the above is with fanbases in places like Carolina, Florida or California regarding interest in the NHL, but that’s a question worth delving into. Growth under Bettman, who just celebrated 30 years as commissioner, has been substantial in terms of increasing revenue.
Is this decrease in U.S. viewership in the second year of the deal with ESPN/TNT just a blip stateside? Has your interest in games and events happening around the league, particularly south of the border, declined?


McDavid stated his preference for extending overtime in regular season to 10 minutes from five minutes a couple of weeks ago to cut down on the number of shootouts and we had more of that talk during the all-star break.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to decide the outcome of the game in a team atmosphere, I think it’s more indicative of the fabric of the game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “The shootout, I know it’s exciting and there’s an entertainment value there, but for me it’s deciding the outcome of a baseball game with a home run derby.”


“It’s been a funny year for me personally. To be honest, I haven’t really been happy with the way I’ve been playing necessarily. Obviously, the statistics would probably tell you otherwise, but I think there’s another level to the way I just want to play – not about statistics or goals and assists, whatever. There’s another level to the way I want to play.” 
Draisaitl, proving to be a pretty tough marker on media day when asked to rate his play so far this season. 


Do you want to come with us to Toronto in March for an HNIC matchup that we’ll be watching in a suite? Of course you do. That’s why I’m telling you to sign up for the #NationVacation to T.O. and join us for a weekend that no one will soon forget. Check out the details you need right here. 

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