For those who have never been to an All-Star Game weekend, the emphasis is about 10% on the on-ice action and 90% on the fan-friendly environment off of it. There's been plenty to do and see for hockey fans in the great town of Raleigh, N.C., where I've done my part to support the local economy by indulging in a little Carolina BBQ goodness.
While we wait for the game to get underway in about 30 minutes, here are a few quick observations from the weekend thus far.
1.) Michael Grabner skates with the speed of a well-caffeinated ice leopard. Seriously, he's fast. In last night's skills competition he blew past fleet-footed rook Taylor Hall twice to earn Team Staal three fairly meaningless points in a similarly meaningless competition. While at first glance his physical gifts may have given him the wins, I wouldn't underestimate the cunning strategy he used to claim the races. "I just wanted to go out there and skate as fast as I could," Grabner answered in response to the incisive, post-race question of "what was your approach?" It was a bold plan and it paid dividends for the Isles' rookie.
2.) Marc Staal skates with the speed of a large pack animal. This isn't to say the Rangers' D-man was particularly slow -- heck, his brother thought enough of him to put him in the fastest skater competition after all -- but I think he lost his race by the largest margin for any non-goalie. But let's just say that if there were a pride of Grabners skating down a pack of Marc Staals, the Grabners aren't going to go hungry.
3.) Jeff Skinner is a rock star. You've probably heard the Justin Bieber comparisons by now. Lame as they may be, they're kind of accurate. The 18-year-old Carolina Hurricanes rookie is the youngest all-star in NHL history and the fans in are absolutely in love with this kid -- granted the 18 goals he's scored this season have helped just a wee bit. He signed autographs at the fan fest Saturday and the line had to be 200 yards long, with most fans wearing the rookie's jersey. If for no other reason than the kid's marketing potential -- and believe me there are plenty of other reasons -- the Canes have themselves a dynamite pick from the 2010 draft.
4.) Club ideologies carry over. Typical of his big-market team, Nicklas Lidstrom "out-spent" Eric Staal by about $400K when you combine all player salaries on their All-Star fantasy rosters. Gary Bettman needs to tighten the cap for the next game.
5.) Pigs are much more attractive to me when they're on a bun and smothered in Carolina BBQ sauce. That is all.
6.) More creativity can't hurt. Look, it's nice that Team Staal and Team Lidstrom honor their distinguished captains by carrying their monikers. But wouldn't it be better if these fantasy teams had actual fantasy team names? Fans should be able to nominate team names and then vote on the winners. I bet you'd get some pretty funny entries.