A few thoughts as we stare down a weekend without real hockey:
-P.K.Subban's attendance at the festivities in Raleigh could have a beneficial effect on his reputation around the league. He'll get a chance to show off his skills in a setting where showing off is welcome, but, more importantly, he'll have the opportunity to share ice in a casual setting with some of the guys who've been critical of him. Perhaps if someone like Mike Richards sees Subban up close, without the blinders of competition limiting his view of the kid, he'll realize Subban is not an ass; he's just an enthusiastic rookie.
-It's unfortunate that Carey Price has to give up a week of R&R to take part in the All-Star weekend. As one of the busiest goalies in the league, and his team's most valuable player, he really could have used the time off. The really unfortunate side effect for fans is that we now will get suckered into watching the "draft" by the all-star team captains, just to see who picks Price and when.
-Most real fans deplore the All-Star game because it's not real hockey and it adds to the workload of the league's best players. There are a couple of side benefits for the players, though. For one thing, south of the border, where hockey is often the fifth or sixth most popular sport, it's a rare occurrence for even star players to get the spotlight all to themselves. The red-carpet treatment is a nice perque in exchange for giving up their weekend to glorify the league. This kind of event also gives the players who will one day be the movers and shakers behind the scenes a chance to make contacts and develop relationships that will serve them well when their playing days are over. Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake were once the guys who networked at All-Star weekends. So were Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman. In the insular world of hockey, where it's not what you know, but who you know, those connections can be important.
-Even if you're not a Sidney Crosby fan, you have to be appalled that the reason he's not at the All-Star game is because he's dealing with a concussion...and even more appalled that there seems to be so little reaction to that by the NHL brass. In a time when head injuries are forcing players out of the game, it was irresponsible and stupid for the Penguins to allow Crosby back on the ice after the original head shot from David Steckel. It was negligent of the league not to make an example of Steckel in this situation. Crosby, love him or hate him, is the face of the NHL and probably the best all-round player in the world. If he can be hit in the head and knocked out of the game with relative impunity, what chance does the average player have? Crosby's injury gave the league an opportunity to act decisively on the matter of head shots and it failed miserably. Colin Campbell's ineffective and unpredictable meting out of justice is doing nothing to help stem a problem that's destroying some fine hockey players.
-This week on the run-up to the All-Star game, Kirk Muller was in the news because some of the Montreal media have clued into the fact that some other team will probably hire him as a head coach this summer. The only surprise there is that it's taken so long for that realization to surface. Muller had a big role in preparing the team for last year's playoff run, which didn't go unnoticed by GMs around the league. He's a serious competitor who doesn't see himself in an assistant's role for much longer. And he knows as long as Pierre Boivin is running the show, anybody in line for the Canadiens head coaching position must speak French. The only thing that could make a difference to Muller's decision to depart, should he, as expected, get coaching offers this summer, is Geoff Molson's arrival as club president. Molson is young, a Habs fan as well as an owner, and an astute businessman who's more likely to choose the right man as coach, rather than base his choice on language. If he can give Muller reason to believe he will succeed Martin behind the Habs bench, Kirk might be patient and stay. Otherwise, he's gone and the Habs will be poorer for it.
-At the All-Star break, the Canadiens are ten points better than they were at the same time last year. A lot of people are getting really excited about that because it must mean the team is better than it was then, right? As it turns out, the Habs' 59 points in 50 games is actually on par with their performance for each of the last five years, barring last season. The team was lucky last year that the rest of the Eastern Conference also performed poorly, and the Canadiens were able to scrape into eighth with a low 88 points. This season, even though the Habs are putting up more points, so is the rest of the conference. After an anomoly last year, things have returned to normal in the East which means the Habs are still fighting for a playoff spot. The Canadiens will likely need about 35 points in the remaining 32 games to secure a berth in the postseason as a low seed. They'll probably need 40-44 to catch the Bruins for the division.
-After the All-Star break, the next big item on Pierre Gauthier's agenda is the trade deadline. If the Canadiens are on track for a playoff position, he's got to decide whether to spend the money he's got because of Andrei Markov's injury and become an asset buyer. It's likely Gauthier won't be interested in a rental player. If he does move at the deadline, it will be for someone whom he can likely re-sign and who fits a pretty stringent list of criteria including youth, cap number, character and skillset. If there's nobody Gauthier can get to add to the team beyond this spring, he won't likely make a big move just to fund a playoff run that may or may not get out of the first round.