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All-Star Notebook: Clayton Keller’s ascension, takeaways from Vegas

Craig Morgan Avatar
February 6, 2022

LAS VEGAS — Right off the hop, Clayton Keller had a chance to score and put the Central Division on top of the Atlantic Division in their NHL All-Star Game semifinal at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday. Instead, Keller waited for teammate Jordan Kyrou to catch up for a 2-on-0. He unselfishly dished to Kyrou, Kyrou scored the game’s first goal and the Central was off and running to the final with an 8-5 victory.

Keller didn’t get to share in the $1 million prize awarded to the weekend’s winning team. The Metropolitan Division posted a 5-3 win in the final to secure its third title since the NHL went to the 3-on-3 format in 2017, but Keller looked at home with the game’s best players, he had a goal and two assists for the afternoon and he enjoyed every minute of the weekend.

“It was a great experience, a lot of fun,” he said. “We got one win and came up a little short there in the second game. It was great to play with those guys.”

While many of the executives, media and fans in attendance planned to stay over in Vegas until Sunday, Keller opted to return to the Valley immediately after the game. The Coyotes will practice on Monday and then travel to Vancouver and Seattle for road games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

All-Star takeaways

These were a few of my favorite things from the 2022 NHL All-Star weekend.

1. The NHL Fountain Face-Off, won by Columbus’ Zach Werenski, was awesome. This is the kind of thing that the NHL needs to do more of in the future. First and foremost, the All-Star weekend is supposed to be fun. This event was a creative way of incorporating one of Las Vegas’ iconic sites into a skills competition.

2. The same goes for the Las Vegas NHL 21 in ’22 event in which Joe Paveksi nailed every one of his card shots to win.

3. Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot continues to be one of the game’s greatest celebrities. All of the mascots were in attendance and mingling with the crowd at T-Mobile, but Gritty stole the show again with his edgy antics. During one pause in play, cameras caught Gritty snatching a kid’s hat off his head and peering at the logo with feigned annoyance because it was not the Flyers’ logo. When the victimized kid asked Gritty for an autograph, he declined and then immediately turned to twerk his big butt in the kid’s face.

Gritty hams it up with a fan during the 2022 NHL All-Star Game at T-Mobile Arena. (Getty Images)

As for the other skills events, the fastest skater, the hardest shot and the shooting accuracy contests felt stale in comparison, but they are still good events because fans want to know which players possess the best tools for each skill set. My co-worker, Steve Peters, suggested that the NHL should have closed off a section of the Las Vegas Strip and had skaters race down it with iconic images in the background to determine the leagues’ best north-south skater.

Furthering that creative thought, I would like to see the NHL invite the players best suited to each skills competition instead of pulling the participants from the pool of players selected to the game. With stopwatches and the microchipped puck that the league used in Vegas, it would be easy to determine the top half dozen or so competitors in each field.

And as long as I am dreaming, I would love to see the 3-on-3 format expanded so that every team fields a group of seven players plus a goalie to compete in an All-Star tournament bracket. With 32 teams, it would be easy and the pairings could be decided by league standing.

Play one 12-minute period per game and keep eliminating teams until you determine a winner.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman addresses Coyotes’ move to ASU

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly addressed the media on a number of topics before the festivities began on Friday. Among those was the Coyotes’ intention to play their games for at least the next three seasons at Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat, multi-purpose facility; a story that PHNX Sports broke on Jan. 27.

“At the end of the day, if there has to be a temporary accommodation — knowing that a new building is coming, this obviously can’t be indefinite — I think they can create a terrific experience for people in a more intimate setting,” Bettman said. “It wouldn’t be the first time that we were in a small, temporary facility pending the construction of a new arena.”

The Arizona Board of Regents is expected to discuss the proposal at its meeting on Feb. 10. As PHNX previously reported, the Coyotes will not be permitted to use ASU’s team areas due to NCAA compliance issues so they will have to build their own at a cost estimated between $15 and $20 million (the costs may change as the project unfolds).

A list of those details is available in a document posted on the Board of Regents website where the cost is currently projected at $19.7 million.

Bettman made it clear that the NHL views the move to ASU as a bridge until the team can get its proposed arena built along the south bank of Rio Salado in Tempe. The team’s lease at Gila River Arena expires on June 30 and the City of Glendale has informed the team that it will not be renewing that lease.

The Tempe City Council has yet to decide whether to move forward with the Coyotes’ proposal. Two sources familiar with the situation said that it is unlikely that the council will vote on the proposal before elections. The primary election will be held March 8 and the general election is scheduled for May 17, if needed. New councilmembers will be sworn in at the first regular council meeting in July.

on March 8 in which there are three open seats. Bettman addressed that uncertainty while discussing playing games at ASU.

“It’s something that has to be done in the short term,” Bettman said. “It’s not gonna be two weeks but it’s not gonna be two years. If there’s no prospect of a new building then we’re going to have to focus with ownership on what makes sense, but as long as there is a realistic possibility in the near term of a new arena in the right place we think there’s a tremendous opportunity in that vibrant market.”

Loose pucks

  • Bettman said that the league will consider moving the 2023 NHL Draft out of Montréal if the province of Quebec’s COVID-19 attendance restrictions remain in place. The Canadiens are currently limited to a maximum of 500 spectators for their scheduled games on Feb. 8, 10, 12 and 13. The team is awaiting an update on restrictions before making announcements for their slate of home games beginning on Feb. 17. The 2022 Draft is scheduled for July 7-8.
  • Despite restrictions in Canada, Bettman said the league still expects overall league revenue in the range of $5 billion.
  • Daly said the league hopes to host another World Cup of Hockey between now and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, Italy. The 2020 World Cup was canceled.
  • The NHL announced its slate of special-event games for the 2022-2023 season. The Boston Bruins will host the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park. The Florida Panthers will host the 2023 All-Star Game. The NHL Global Series will host games in Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Czechia. And the NHL Stadium Series will feature the Carolina Hurricanes at Carter-Finley Stadium, home of the N.C. State Wolfpack in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Carolina becomes the 28th NHL team to participate in an outdoor game. Only Florida, Columbus, Arizona and 1-year-old Seattle have not. While Phoenix had been discussed as an outdoor site as it often is, it was clear that with everything going on with the Coyotes, that possibility was remote. It would be a tough look for the NHL to award such a game to a team that executives worry will hurt league revenues when it plays at ASU. For the Coyotes, the better play would be to focus on securing a game in Mexico City, a possibility that I explored at length in October. The Dallas Stars are reportedly also in hot pursuit of such a game and would make for a good opponent. With the first Latino majority owner (Alex Meruelo) and the first Latino president and CEO (Xavier Gutierrez), the Coyotes are a no-brainer for such a game.

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