Nick Turchiaro - USA TODAY Sports

EP Rinkside 3 Stars: Believe the hype

I just want to shout out the Vancouver Canucks for getting trade season started early. As I type this, we are waiting for details on a trade that will see the Montréal Canadiens send Sean Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets. Always nice when an aggressive team can get the ball rolling on this sort of thing.

Of course, we're going to hear grumbling from the kind of people whose job is to be on TV for several hours straight on deadline day, because that just means they have to fill time, and with Elias Lindholm and now Monahan off the board, pickings are going to get slim in a hurry. You can't spend an entire six-hour shift going, "I wonder if the Rangers will trade Kaapo Kakko for a middle-pair veteran defenceman," without wanting to claw your eyes out. I get that.

Probably not great for the fans, either, because they will then have to watch (and complain about) the very bad deadline day shows they'll sit through. And look, I'll do that too, but y'know, it's nice to have a whole month plus of this and ah jeez as I finish this section up it looks like Monahan for a first and a conditional pick. Time to go write a trade grade, I guess.

Let's go:

3. Not having too good a time

One of the things that people were really excited about going into the All-Star weekend was the idea of the player draft, because the player draft is when fun and exciting things happen for NHL players who are usually saying some variation of, "Ahh, y'know, just get to the front of the net and play the right way," to anyone who asks them any questions about any subject.

But the thing that made those past events exciting (almost a decade ago now) was that the players were clearly getting a head start on the weekend if you know what I mean. Didn't realize Toronto was a dry city, but when people were saying there was something missing from last night's proceedings, that's pretty clearly what they meant.

Michael Bublé found a way around that, generating a little bit of buzz by saying he was on mushrooms in a league press conference (cool to do) before kinda trying to walk it back in a front-facing camera video from a fancy restaurant (dork move) while also stuffing a bunch of bread in his mouth (back to cool).

But let's just say the "assisted" fun he may or may not have been having didn't really add to the proceedings in a way that a couple vodka sodas in the back for a couple of the team captains would have.

I would also say the league didn't do anyone any favours by holding this event in a full arena at 6 p.m., rather than a timeslot most would consider reasonable, and a venue that would allow players to feel a little more comfortable doing public speaking. Adding in all these weird rules like "you have to take a goalie this round" didn't help. Expecting people to come back an hour later to watch the women's game didn't make a lot of sense, either.

But look, they're trying something and if they actually do the smart thing and commit to the format, they'll probably iron out a few of the kinks. It's certainly better than the alternative. Gotta give them some credit.

Maybe next year they can even get all the All-Stars to show up, too. Just a suggestion.

2. Making a not-so-surprising change

It didn't feel like it was going to happen now, but then it happened anyway: The Los Angeles Kings let Todd McLellan go despite a little turnaround right before the All-Star Break.

After entering the week on a hideous 6-11-6 run (18 points of a possible 46 points is a little better than the Anaheim Ducks' season-long points percentage, over the course of more than a quarter of the season), they were one of the few teams with a couple games on the books this week. And they were both against teams now potentially competing with them for one of the West Wild Cards: a suddenly relevant St. Louis Blues team and the pesky Nashville Predators.

And credit to 'em, the Kings took three of four points, rescuing the loser point against the Blues with a late comeback goal before leading the Preds pretty much the entire game. Now look, would the team want you looking up the shots on goal from that Nashville game? I'd guess that he would not (it was 42-24) but wins are wins, especially when you spent nearly two months racking up extremely ugly hockey.

Here's what it was: enough to give the Kings a little bit of breathing room in the standings; doesn't feel like they're gonna be able to reverse course and catch up with Edmonton; the Oilers are three points up on them and have just as many games in hand. But now the Kings are two points clear of the Blues and Predators, with one and two games in hand, respectively. They can't revert back to even playing .500 hockey and hope to keep that spot, but nice to enter the break feeling like you've got something going again.

Here's what it wasn't: enough to keep the coach employed. Hard to argue with the decision, of course. Even with that little turnaround, they were still 7-11-7 over the course of 25 games and that's just not gonna be acceptable for a team that actually wanted to improve on a couple one-and-done playoff appearances. McLellan joins a growing line of demonstrably good coaches fired this season because they simply had no answer for why their teams were dramatically underperforming. He did his predecessor a favour this week, but this change probably had to happen, too.

That's the nature of the business.

1. Lucy holding the football

Much like the Monahan thing, it looks like we're a few hours away from hearing an official announcement that the long-rumored USA/Canada/Sweden/Finland tournament happening in Boston and Montreal next season. Not really something that feels worth getting excited about other than the fact that the games should be good and players will care about them.

But the big headline regarding international play was that the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF were in heavy negotiations to go to the 2026 and 2030 Olympics, and about 12 hours later, it was official enough that the IIHF tweeted about the agreement before quickly deleting it. Symbolism, I think.

I mean, that sounds great, but you have to take a skeptical approach here. They could announce it, they could promote it, but until there are actually players on the ice in Milan, I'm just straight up not going to believe it'll happen. Remember when they pretended they were gonna go to Beijing? Then the craziest thing happened: Ah jeez, I mean… COVID concerns! Disruption to the season!

What, am I supposed to get excited about the NHL doing something the CBA says they have to do? Maybe this time things are different, in part because the CBA expires in late 2026 and the league might not want to get things all acrimonious.

But I do know one thing for sure: Everyone has generally liked how this All-Star weekend is formatted, I think, and so of course the league's plans involves… no All-Star Game next year, and probably wouldn't in 2026 if they do go to the Olympics. (Don't hold your breath.)

Where international hockey is concerned, the NHL loves to give with one hand, take with the other, and then also take with the hand that originally gave.

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The EP Rinkside January 2024 NHL Mock Draft
The EP Rinkside January 2024 NHL Mock Draft
This article is about:
NHL Los Angeles Kings NHL Elias Lindholm Sean Monahan Todd McLellan
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