NHL celebrates 100th season with All Star Weekend

Part of the NHL’s 100thanniversary season was the league’s annual All-Star Game and Skills Competition which was held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 28-29. The NHL kept the three-on-three game format it introduced last season with each of the four divisions being represented by a team of 11 All Stars. The Pacific Division beat the Central 10-3 in the first matchup with the Metropolitan downing the Atlantic Division 10-6 in the second contest. The Metropolitan Division then beat the Pacific 4-3 in the final and took home the $1 million prize. Each game consisted of two 10-minute halves. Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds was named the tournament’s MVP.
There were six events in the skills competitions the night before with the two most popular being the hardest shot and fastest skater events. There weren’t any surprises though as forward Connor McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers, won the skating competition and defenceman Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens recorded the hardest slap shot. McDavid skated a lap of the rink in 13.02 seconds while forward Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning placed second at 13.16. The Florida Panthers’ Vincent Trochek was third at 13.32 seconds. Goaltender Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes thrilled fans by shooting the puck from his own goal line and depositing it through a small target in the net at the other end of the rink in the four-lines challenge event. 
As for the hardest shot, Weber was favoured to win since he entered the contest as the two-time defending champion. His hardest shot registered 102.8 mph (miles per hour) on the radar gun to lead the way. However, some fans may have been surprised that 18-year-old Finnish rookie Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets wasn’t too far behind him in second place at 101.7 mph. They were the only two players to reach the 100 mph mark. Columbia Blue Jackets’ defenceman Seth Jones hit 98.1 mph to place third and Washington Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin reached 97.8 mph for fourth place.
Weber may be losing a little of power though since he won the event last year at 108.1 mph and two years ago he reached 108.5 mph. Defenceman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins is still the record holder with a 108.8 mph shot in 2012. Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby won the accuracy shooting event by nailing all four targets in 10.73 seconds. The skills challenge relay was won by the Metropolitan Division with its team of Jones, Ovechkin, Simmonds and goaltender Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. They managed to complete the course in 1 minute 21.07 seconds. The Atlantic Division topped the Pacific 4-1 in the shootout event and won the overall skills competition.
This allowed them to choose the game time and their opponent for the three-on-three tournament on Sunday and they chose to play the second game against the Metropolitan Division. The NHL also announced its list of the league’s top 100 players of all time which was chosen by a panel of 58 former players, media members and league executives. We might as well list them here so you don’t have to go searching for them. The top 100 NHL players in no particular order are:
Sid Abel, Syl Apps, Andy Bathgate, Jean Beliveau, Max Bentley, Toe Blake, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, Johnny Bucyk, King Clancy, Charlie Conacher, Alex Delvecchio, Bill Durnan, Bernie Geoffrion, Glenn Hall, Doug Harvey, Tim Horton, Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Elmer Lach, Ted Lindsay, Frank Mahovlich, Dickie Moore, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Henri Richard, Maurice Richard, Terry Sawchuk, Milt Schmidt, Eddie Shore, Georges Vezina, Bobby Orr, Brad Park, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Bernie Parent, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, Jacques Lemaire, Stan Mikita, Gilbert Perreault, Jean Ratelle, Darryl Sittler, Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, Pat LaFontaine, Mark Messier, Denis Savard, Peter Stastny, Bryan Trottier, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Borje Salming, Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Pavel Bure, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Peter Forsberg, Ron Francis, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Steve Yzerman, Martin Brodeur, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Teemu Selanne, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and  Jaromir Jagr.

Since there are almost 300 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame it was obvious that dozens of great players would have to be left off the list with some of the most notable names missing being Jarome Iginla, Dale Hawerchuk, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Joe Thornton, Larry Murphy, Doug Gilmour, and Evgeni Malkin.

Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell making his NHL goals count

Swedish forward Rickard Rakell is sure making his NHL goals count for something as 27 per cent of the young man’s career tallies have been game-winners, including three in overtime. We could also mention that 33 per cent of his career playoff goals have also been game-winners, but that would be pushing it a bit since he’s scored just three times in the postseason so far. The Ducks drafted the 23-year-old, 6-foot-2-inch, 200 lb. player with the 30th overall pick in the first round back in 2011 and he’s proven to be a worthy selection.
Rakell played his junior hockey with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and showed he was a consistent scorer with 151 points in 149 games on 69 goals and 82 assists. He also won a silver and gold medal with his homeland at a pair of World Junior Championships as a youngster and registered 14 points in 17 tournament games. Rakell signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Ducks a year after being drafted and got his feet wet in the NHL that season by playing in four games before heading back to Junior.
He appeared in 18 games with Anaheim the next season as well as four in the postseason with a goal and assist in the playoff games and four assists in his regular-season stint. Rakell spent most of that season with Norfolk of the AHL where he racked up 37 points in 46 games and added a pair of points in four playoff outings. His performance at the AHL level and the next season’s training camp earned the well-rounded forward a spot on the Ducks’ roster in 2014/15. He showed the coaching staff he was a strong player who could was blessed with plenty of offensive creativity and overall hockey sense.
As the season went along Rakell took on a larger role for the team and finished the year with a respectable nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points in 71 contests and was a plus-six. This wasn’t bad for a player who averaged 12 minutes and 34 seconds of ice time a game. Rakell cooled off a little in the playoffs with just one goal in 16 playoff games. He made it count though as it was the overtime winner in a 5-4 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Rakell gained confidence from his first full year in the NHL and managed to score 43 points on 20 goals and 20 assists last season. He also scored goals that count as a team-leading seven of them, or 35 percent, were game-winners. Rakell also showed he was adept at hitting and blocking shots and was becoming a valuable player for the Ducks.
If we fast forward to this season, we find Rakell’s name at the top of Anaheim’s goalscoring list with a team-leading 19 after 38 games along with nine assists. He’s still scoring important goals as five, or 26.3 per cent of them, were game winners. He was also making his chances count as Rakell was scoring on 21.3 per cent of his shots with his ice time now boosted up to an average of 17 minutes and 40 seconds per game. He was top-10 in the league in several categories as his shooting percentage, 19 goals, and game-winning goals were ranked sixth-best in the league, his 14 even-strength goals were 10th and his .50 goals per game was third best.
It’s no wonder Anaheim signed Rakell to a six-year contract extension worth$22.8 million last year as he’s blossoming and improving at an exceptional rate. His numbers would be even better this season if he didn’t miss World Cup of Hockey and the first nine games of the campaign due to injury. He can play all three of the forward positions and his knack for scoring timely goals can’t be ignored. Rakell is an important player in the NHL’s youth movement and it appears anything’s possible with him in the future. The Ducks are obviously happy with his development and fans should expect to see Rakell soon take over from the team’s old guard of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

NHL surprises at the halfway mark of 2016/17 season

The NHL is entering the second half of the 2016/17 season as most teams have reached the 41-game mark. There have been a few individual and team surprises over the first half and we’ll take a quick look at them, both good and bad. As far as teams go, the biggest news has been the fine play of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who went on a 16-game winning streak and ended up just one short of the league record set by Pittsburgh back in 1993. In addition, the Minnesota Wild reeled off 12 straight wins until running into Columbus, and Washington was on a nine-game winning streak as of January 16th.

To put things into perspective, Columbus had just 76 points last season and had earned 62 already after 42 contests this year. However, they were still a point behind Washington for top spot in the league, and the Wild were third in the overall standings with 61 points. Washington, Columbus and Minnesota all led the NHL in the first half of the season with the fewest defeats at just nine. The best goaltenders during that stretch belong to these three clubs as they were Devan Dubnyk of Minnesota, Sergei Bobrovsky of Columbus and Braden Holtby of Washington.

Dubnyk had a 21-7-3 record at the halfway point with a league-leading 1.78 goals-against average and 94.0 save percentage. Meanwhile, Bobrovsky (26-6-3) won 14 games in a row and had a fourth-best goals-against average of 2.00 with a third-ranked 93.1 save percentage. Holtby (21-8-6) had a 1.85 goals-against and a 93.3 save percentage, which were both second-best in the league. Boston netminder Tuukka Rask (22-9-5) has also been excellent with a third-best goals against of 1.98 and fourth-best save percentage of 92.5.

The most disappointing teams in the league have been the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Florida was third-best in the Eastern Conference last season with 103 points, but were tied for ninth at the halfway mark with 48. The Islanders were fifth-best in the East with 100 points last campaign and were in last place in the conference and 28th in the NHL with just 40 points. Meanwhile, Tampa finished last season sixth in the East with 97 points and were fourth-worst this time around with 44 points.

There’s been a lot of ink concerning this year’s excellent crop of rookies and the competition for the Calder Trophy. At the halfway mark, the race couldn’t be much closer as both the first and second-overall picks last summer, Auston Matthews of Toronto and Patrick Laine of Winnipeg, each had 21 goals and 16 assists. Fellow forward Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs was just a pair of points behind them with 10 goals and 25 assists. We can’t overlook Zach Werenski of Columbus either, as he was the top-scoring rookie defenceman with 26 points, was a plus-8, and a big reason for the Blue Jackets’ resurgence this season.

When it comes to offseason free-agent acquisitions, the best pickups have been forwards Michael Grabner of the New York Rangers, Eric Staal of Minnesota and Sam Gagner of Columbus. Gagner was signed from Philadelphia for just $650,000 and had scored 30 points in half a season after registering just 16 in 53 games last year. Staal had 39 points at the halfway mark this season after scoring 39 points in 83 games with Carolina and the Rangers last campaign. As for the speedy Grabner, he had 19 goals and 27 points at the midway mark compared to nine goals and 18 points with Toronto in 80 games last year.

The most valuable player over the first half was contested by physical defenceman Brent Burns of San Jose and forwards Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Connor McDavid of Edmonton. Crosby led the league with 26 goals in 36 games at the halfway mark as well as in points-per game at 1.28. McDavid led the league in overall scoring with 50 points and Burns has been the top-scoring defenceman with 17 goals and 44 points. McDavid was scoring a pace of 1.11 points a game and Burns was at 1.02 points per outing.

We shouldn’t forget the coaches either as John Tortorella of Columbus, Bruce Boudreau of Minnesota and Mike Babcock of Toronto have all done wonders. Columbus was by far the surprise of the league and also owned the third-best goals for and goals-against records at the midway point. They were 27th in goals for last season and 30th in goals against. Boudreau had his team in top spot in the Western Conference with 61 points in his first year with Minnesota. They missed the playoffs last year with 87 points. As for Babcock, the Leafs were the worst team in the NHL last season with 69 points. They were tied for ninth in the East at the halfway mark with 48 points at 20-13-8 with eight rookies in the lineup.

Columbus Blue Jackets fall one game shy of NHL history

It was a case of “close but no cigar” for the Columbus Blue Jackets recently as their 16-game winning streak was snapped at the hands of the Washington Capitals. The Capitals handed them a 5-0 beating  at home at the Verizon Center in on January 5th while the Blue Jackets were attempting to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins for the NHL record of 17 consecutive victories which they set in 1992/93. Blue Jackets’ netminder Sergei Bobrovsky also saw his 14-game winning streak end in the same game as he was pulled during the third period after surrendering five goals on 23 shots. Columbus won two of their 16 games in overtime and one in a shootout, but ultimately fell one game short of joining the Penguins in the history book. 
It’s certainly a turnaround for the Blue Jackets as they were the second-worst club in the Eastern Conference and worst in the Metropolitan Division last campaign with a record 34-40-8 of for 76 points . They struggled right from the get-go in 2015/16 as they kicked off the year with an eight-game losing string. However, it looks like controversial head coach John Tortorella has pulled all of the right strings so far this season as they were leading the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference with 60 points at 28-7-4 on January 9th. Tortorella has been managing to get the most out of his lineup considering the squad isn’t laden with all stars.
The Blue Jackets have been getting excellent goaltending from former Vezina Trophy winner Bobrovsky while rookie defenceman Zach Werenski has been better than anybody expected. Forward Brandon Saad, who is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, has also been a key player along with captain Nick Foligno. Columbus is one of the league’s youngest teams when it comes to the average age of the players as well as their years of NHL experience. The franchise entered the league in 2000/01 and has made the playoffs just twice and has yet to win a series. As a matter of fact, the team has just two postseason victories in its history.
Columbus would have to basically collapse to miss the playoffs this season though due to their recent winning streak which lasted from November. 29th to January 5th. Their previous defeat was a shootout loss to Florida on November 26th. At that time, the Blue Jackets were sitting in fourth spot in the Metropolitan Division at 11-5-4. Their streak started on November 29th with a convincing 5-1 home win over Tampa Bay. Their fourth win of the streak came on December 5th with a 4-1 decision over Arizona and it was also the 500th victory in their franchise history. The ninth game was a 4-3 overtime triumph in Vancouver and was the 500th win in Tortorella’s career. 

By the time the 16-game streak had ended, the team had climbed to the top of the NHL’s overall standings with the league’s best record and they gave up three or more goals just three times during the run. Between 1992/93 and the current season, the closest an NHL team came to equaling Pittsburgh’s 17-game record was the Penguins themselves when they ran off 15 straight victories in the 2012/13 season which was shortened to 48 games due to a labour lockout. Columbus lost for a second straight time after the streak ended when they dropped a 5-4 decision to the New York Rangers, but then rebounded with 2-1 win over Philadelphia the next night, January 8th.  

Jaromir Jagr now second to only one

Other than a short three-day break it was business as usual for the NHL over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. There were some newsworthy events such as the Columbus Blue Jackets extending their winning streak to 15 games, the Minnesota Wild having theirs snapped at 12 contests, and a couple of outdoor games. However, the most significant accomplishment over the past couple of weeks was 44-year-old winger Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic climbing into second place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. He achieved the feat with an assist in a home game against the Boston Bruins on December 22nd.
There’s now just one player between the Florida Panther veteran and the number one position and that’s a fellow by the name of Wayne Gretzky. With 2,857 points to his name in 1,487 games played, Gretzky was still 966 points ahead of Jagr’s 1,891 points. As of January 1st, Jagr had 756 goals and 1,135 assists. Jagr stood number three on the all-time goals list behind Gretzky’s 894 and Gordie Howe’s total of 801. As for assists, Jagr was fifth o the list behind Gretzky (1,963), Ron Francis (1,249), Mark Messier (1,193) and Ray Bourque (1,169).
Nobody has scored more important goals in NHL history though as Jagr has 133 game-winners under his belt with Phil Esposito being second on the list with 118. Jagr was also ranked in the top-five when it came to games played as he was fourth on the list with 1,667. The only players to appear in more NHL regular-season contests have been Howe (1,767), Messier (1,756) and Francis (1,731). There’s an excellent chance that Jagr will eventually play the most games in NHL history since he doesn’t have any plans of retiring son.
In fact, Jagr already would be the record holder for games played if he hadn’t left the NHL in 2008 to play in the KHL for three seasons before returning to North America. Jagr was taken with the fifth-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It didn’t take long for the youngster to prove that he belonged in the world’s best hockey league as he banged in 27 goals and 30 assists in 1990/91 as a rookie. Jagr has scored more than 100 points in a season on five occasions with his best campaign being 62 goals along with 87 assists for 149 points in 1995/96 with Pittsburgh.
Jagr has spent time with numerous NHL clubs as he’s also played with the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. He’s also played in 208 career postseason games with 78 goals and 123 assists for 201 points. Jagr’s trophy cabinet includes five Art Ross awards for leading the league in point scoring, three Hart Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player, three Lester B. Pearson Awards for being the NHL’s best player and a trio of Ted Lindsay Awards for being the top goal scorer in a season. He’s scored the most overtime goals in regular-season play in history and is the oldest player to record three goals in a game.

As far as team achievements go, the future Hall of Famer won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, two Olympic medals, four IIHF World Championship medals and a IIHF World Junior Championship medal. There’s no doubt Jagr will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest hockey players due to his longevity and production. As of New Year’s Day he had 23 points in 38 games and claims he plans on playing until the age of 50. If he does, Jagr should creep a couple of hundred points closer to Gretzky, but it’s highly doubtful he’ll ever catch him. It certainly would have been interesting though if he didn’t trade three seasons of NHL hockey for the KHL.