I don't know if it's my age or something going on in the sports themselves, but it feels like all-star games have taken a sharp downturn in terms of importance to fans in recent years. The NFL's Pro Bowl has long been somewhat laughable. The NBA All-Star Game is more spectacle than sport. Major League Baseball's Midsummer Classic attempted to inject relevance and competition by tying its outcome to a significant postseason element, and in so doing, pissed off the purists in its ranks.
Like the sport itself, the NHL's All-Star Game is something seemingly strictly for its own diehard fans, with little attention from outside media outlets or casual fans. Adding the element of a pair of captains choosing the sides gave it some new life last season though, and new media have also shown us more of how much the players enjoy the weekend. The league and the team have done a great job of posting videos and first-hand accounts to their own sites, which is fitting because the All-Star Game is a celebration of the simple fact that there is a league at all. No score is settled, no permanent rivalry revisited. Just players playing the game.
This season's game is a pretty special one for Flyers fans though, with three veterans and a pair of rookies representing Philadelphia up in Ottawa. So far, it's been a perfect representation, too.
Claude Giroux's presence is that of one of the league's truly elite forwards. The Flyers have had scoring depth in season after season, but it's been a long time since they had this kind of star power at the top. Scott Hartnell's All-Star story may trump G's though.
Philly loves an underdog, and to say Hartnell was a long shot for playing in this weekend when the season started is a bit of an understatement. But I think just about everyone would agree that since that time, he's flat out earned the opportunity to be recognized among the league's best players in the first half. And it certainly seems like he's enjoying it.
Harts has, unsurprisingly, had a life-of-the-party presence in Ottawa, tweeting his self-deprecation and appreciation throughout the weekend. And, in the skills competition, he showed that he's here because he is in fact skilled, not just a skilled pest. He and Giroux made sure to salute the linemate that helped them both get to Ottawa (see that, plus Hartnell's skill on the one-timers and a sweet breakway move by Sean Couturier in the video below).
Earlier this season, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun called Kimmo Timonen underappreciated. I'm not sure I'd agree with that being the case in Philly. It's nearly impossible to find a fan who has anything but appreciation for the Finnish veteran. We all know how much trouble the team would be in without him, and we're proud to see him still among the league's elite. Most of the All-Stars are pretty young, and Kimmo can still skate with them in any game.
After old man Timonen, the veteran Hartnell, and rising star Giroux, there are two very talented rookies showing the league that the future is bright in Philly. Couturier has played his ass off as a rookie, filling every role asked of him from checking line and PK duties to high lining and power plays. Matt Read finally found an NHL home, and a bunch of other franchises are kicking themselves for passing him up both in the draft and a handful of training camps.
SOME WTF IN THE LINES
At 4PM today, Giroux and Hartnell will be on one side, with Timonen on another, a fun if somewhat awkward twist. G's line will be centering Logan Couture and Steven Stamkos. Hartnell will skate with the Sedin twins. Goalies will rotate every period. Defense will lay off to the degree that "checks" should be listed in drinking games.
A LITTLE MAGIC LEFT IN THE TANK
Growing up, I loved All-Star weekend. I was a big NHL fan, loving the Flyers first and foremost, but having plenty of favorites in other cities as well. The Winter Classic and 24/7 have been a good reminder of the fact that their guys are human too, and Hartnell acknowledged the same effect hitting him as he had a blast with some rival Rangers up in Ottawa.
The score won't matter today, but we'll still be rooting for the Flyers to show 'em well. And for a #hartnelldown or two...