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Inside the NHL: Simple tweaks can help All-Star Game rosters

There's been so much consternation about rosters for the All-Star Game this year that one thing is certain: Fans care about it. They want to watch. There's an odd amount of get-rid-of-it sniping from Canadian media, almost as if it's a gimmick that's beneath them.

Please. Of course it's a gimmick. It's a skills competition one night followed by a 3-on-3 tournament the next. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

What's the problem with selling the game more, particularly south of the border? Did the folks on the other side of the Peace Bridge not pay attention to what was going on in Nashville and Vegas the last two springs?

For the league, it's prime-time programming for NBC and CBC, a great sales pitch for sponsors and a terrific meeting place just past midseason. It's not going anywhere, so the league should be listening to all the outcry about rosters and the Last Men In vote and tinker with things to give fans more of what they want.

When we head to San Jose, it will be weird that the rosters won't include the likes of Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Braydon Point, Sean Monahan, Max Domi, Dylan Larkin, Brad Marchand and Mark Giordano. And it certainly would have been a huge injustice had Jeff Skinner not won the Last Men in vote. This corner was expecting the huge reach of Leafs Nation to benefit Rielly and it was surprising that didn't happen.

(On second thought, forget about Marchand. Nobody outside of Boston wants to see him).

I remain torn about the one player per team rule. On one hand, you don't want to give multiple markets a reason to not watch the game because their team doesn't have a player there. And you'd run the risk of, say, an Atlantic Division roster that might have as many as eight players between two super teams like Tampa Bay and Toronto. That wouldn't be good for anyone.

Sabres lose but All-Star nod, 30th goal makes Skinner's night finer in Carolina

The one thing the league should do next year is eliminate the necessity for defensemen. It's a 3-on-3 tournament. If a blueliner is worthy like Brent Burns or Kris Letang, fine. Select them. But the game has become about young scoring stars. That's who fans want to see. If we have to watch somebody from, say, the Florida Panthers – and that's probably a big if – why are we subjected to Keith Yandle and not able to watch Aleksander Barkov?

Why a secret Last Men In?

This corner's view on the "Last Men In" vote was that it was a terrific conversation piece, just like baseball has used for several years to select the final two players for its midsummer classic. But typically for the odd way the NHL often does business, how in the world did the league not let anyone know it was adding this twist to the game?

NBC Sports Network announced the rosters on its pregame show before a 7 p.m. game and the voting for each division's 11th player wasn't announced on the network until nearly 90 minutes later on its first intermission report.

There was no advance notice given to fans or anyone covering the league that there was going to be such a vote. So the league got 90 minutes of complaints from fans about all the players left out rather than discussion of who might be in or who might win the vote.

It was needless. It was absurd to keep that a secret. There was no benefit to NBC. No one was watching for it knowing it was coming. I was in another room when the broadcast mentioned it and actually rewound the DVR to see what was being discussed.

When you ask "why" about the NHL, sometimes there simply isn't any good answer. Also see: Playoff format.

Coliseum magic

The Islanders entered Saturday 7-5-2 at Barclays Center and 3-1-1 at NYCB Live, the renovated Nassau Coliseum. But after Saturday's game against the Rangers, they have just three more games left in Brooklyn this season and the rest will be in Uniondale, likely a big boost to their playoff hopes.

The Islanders averaged 13,795 in their first five games back at the Coliseum, with three sellouts of 13,917. The average in Brooklyn is just 10,476.

“There is a difference and we’d be lying to ourselves if we said there wasn’t,” captain Anders Lee told Newsday. “But we’re professionals. This is what we deal with. We handle it and we go play hockey. We can’t control where we play and what Tuesday night game is where. The tough side of that with the different environments is the crowd can save you on some nights. When you’re struggling, they can save you.”

“It is what it is,” defenseman Ryan Pulock added. “The energy at the Coliseum has been electric and something we can feed off of. Sometimes at Barclays we have to create that energy ourselves."

The Sabres' road game against the Islanders is March 30 and it's at the Coliseum. Can't wait. The ghosts are everywhere and early reports are that the renovation has been terrific.

Around the boards

* In addition to Jack Eichel and Skinner, the Sabres are going to be represented at the All-Star Game by equipment manager Dave Williams and assistant George Babcock. Trust me when I say the longtime employees are both organizational stars as well. Babcock, with towel draped over his shoulder, even earned a measure of social media fame this season when the team tweeted bench shots of his goal celebration antics with trainer Rich Stinziano. The GIF files were watch-over-and-over hilarious.

* How much is the NHL stoked about its move to Seattle? Commissioner Gary Bettman visited last week and pointedly said the league is going to have both the draft and the All-Star Game in the Emerald City within the next seven years. You won't find many arguments anywhere about that choice.

* Leafs coach Mike Babcock said struggling forward William Nylander needs to stay away from all discussion of his brutal start since signing his new contract, including sports talk television and radio.

“That’s what the country music channel is for and the hunting channel," Babcock deadpanned. "Wild TV 393, it’s dialed in. They never talk about hockey once. Honest to God, it’s unbelievable. Beautiful animals, mountains, hiking, fishing. Thing of beauty.”

* NBCSports.com provided some sobering history for Sabres fans: Since the 2005 lockout, only two of 37 teams that won at least 17 of the first 25 games failed to make the playoffs. The Sabres, who have slumped badly since opening 17-6-2, are trying to avoid joining the 2015-16 Canadiens and 2017-18 Blues.

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