LOS ANGELES – Connor McDavid got to enjoy being a kid one more night, at least. He watched intently Friday as most of the 100 greatest players of all-time took the stage at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, all generational talents, stood together among the other selections for one special photo. McDavid looked on in wonder. And while he’d never, ever admit it, if the NHL names its greatest players of all-time again in 10 or 20 years, there’s a decent chance he’ll be on the stage.
Projection? Overhype? Sure. But if you had to bet for or against McDavid ascending to all-time status by the time is career is over, which would you choose? Exactly. There’s a reason Peter Forsberg said Friday night he wished he could have McDavid’s skill set. The 2017 All-Star Game, then, could signify a passing of the torch. We may look back on this weekend as one of the game’s best all-time gatherings of talent.
“No, I don’t think about it,” McDavid said Saturday at the weekend’s Media Day Event, with maxed-out modesty programmed into his software. “I think it’s pretty clear that Crosby is the best player in the world, and he’s here to stay for a long time. It’s not a passing of the torch.”
Agree to disagree, Connor, though he’s right about Crosby still holding the unofficial crown of world’s best hockey player. That only reinforces the point of how special this year’s all-star class is. Crosby is the best player of at least the past decade and should flirt with top-10 all-time status by the time his career ends. Ovechkin is one of the best two or three goal scorers ever to walk the Earth. And they aren’t just sharing the 2017 All-Star Game spotlight with the Edmonton Oilers’ McDavid. The weekend treats us to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, a teenage phenom meeting the generational-talent expectations halfway through his first NHL season. Winnipeg sniper Patrik Laine looks like a carbon copy of Ovechkin, complete with devastating wrist shot and power play one-timer.
“Were all young but we’ve had pretty good starts to our careers so far,” Matthews told reporters. “It’s exciting to be here with them. We’re all going through our first All-Star Games, and we hope it’s not the last one.”
And we can’t forget Ottawa Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson. He’s not a child prodigy at 26, but he’s amassing a legendary resume of his own. He’s one of four defensemen ever to finish top-10 in overall league scoring. The other three took the stage Friday night: Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had that amount of talent at the same time,” Karlsson told reporters Saturday when asked about the amazing youth crop. “I’ve seen a lot of Matthews, I’ve seen McDavid twice, and I’ve played Laine in the World Cup. It’s great for the sport. It’s great for them. They have a tough task at hand, having that hype, that much attention. To be able to perform the way they have, I can’t say I would’ve done that.”
All that and we haven’t mentioned Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, all selected to the top 100 Friday, not to mention 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty. Overall, the 2017 all-star crop boasts seven Hart Trophies, four Art Rosses, four Vezina Trophies, five Norrises, four Conn Smythes and three Calders. And that doesn’t include Evgeni Malkin, who pulled out of the game due to injury and has a Hart, Calder, two Art Rosses and a Conn Smythe to his name.
Will we thus look back on 2017 among the league’s all-time great offerings of skill? It’s far too early to say, of course, but it’s fun to wonder. The 1980s regularly gave us Gretzky, Lemieux, Coffey, Ray Bourque and Patrick Roy in the same All-Star Games, setting the bar sky high. The 1990s mixed Joe Sakic, Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr into the same group. The 1950s pitted the previous year’s Stanley Cup champion against a collection of all-stars. In 1955, for example, the Detroit Red Wings fielded a team including Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall, battling a star-studded group featuring Rocket Richard, Terry Sawchuk, Jean Beliveau and Doug Harvey.
The 2017 group thus has a long way to go before it can be acknowledged as the best in all-star history. But we already know Crosby and Ovechkin are legends. Karlsson will be, too, if he keeps winning awards. And McDavid, Laine and Matthews have just scratched the surface of their ability. Bookmark 2017. We’ll revisit it in a decade or two.