ST. PAUL, Minn. - Jeremy Roenick is realistic: Labor agreement or not, this is probably his last trip to the All-Star game. So he, like everyone involved with the midseason classic, hopes the NHL shows off its best side.
“The league’s in a situation that we need positive things to happen,” said the 34-year-old Roenick, the Philadelphia Flyers forward and one of the NHL’s most outspoken players.
The 54th All-Star game is Sunday at the sparkling Xcel Energy Center, the 3½-year-old home of the Minnesota Wild. When the 55th edition of the popular exhibition game will be held is anyone’s guess.
With an optimistic outlook, the NHL announced Thursday that next year’s All-Star game will be hosted by another recent expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers.
By then, a major fight between the league and its players will have been waged. And it’s possible that the dispute won’t have reached a solution — peaceful or otherwise — in one year’s time.
The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15, shortly before the start of next season, and an owner’s lockout that could kill a season is a distinct possibility.
This weekend, though, both sides are trying to put on a good face and put the future ugliness off as long as possible.
“Right now everybody is really focused on finishing the season off strong and worrying about the playoffs,” said Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, a first-time All-Star. “Once that is over then I think we’ll move on to other things.”
Easier said than done.
The NHL has tried to be more consumer conscious the past two seasons, even going so far as to select a fan of the year. The All-Star game has always been a spectacle for the league’s supporters, but now, the best and worst parts of the game and the business that fuels it have collided.
“I think there’s going to be a whole bunch of questions, it’s kind of a focal point,” said Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock, an Eastern Conference assistant. “I just hope there’s very little talk of it.
“This is a time for the players. Let them enjoy it rather than get into the politics of the game.”
So this could be it for Roenick, whose retirement is approaching. That time could arrive sooner if the NHL shuts down. Same goes for Mark Messier, who will play his 15th All-Star game at 43, and 39-year-old defenseman Scott Stevens.
Stevens was elected to start but won’t be able to play because of post-concussion symptoms.
Mario Lemieux isn’t here either. Another hip injury cut his season short after just 10 games.
Where he will be in a year will certainly be intriguing because, in addition to being a 38-year-old player who is already in the Hockey Hall of Fame, he doubles as the Pittsburgh Penguins owner.
So the game is left to Luongo, Western Conference goaltender counterpart Dwayne Roloson, and the several other All-Star rookies who just want to play.
“The players want to get a deal done, the owners want to get a deal done,” Luongo said. “So it’s not really in our hands.”
Roloson hasn’t lost himself in All-Star thoughts and what it’ll be like when he represents the host Wild on Sunday. Minnesota is fighting to get back into postseason contention after making a surprise run to the Western Conference finals last year.
“We’re in a playoff hunt,” Roloson said this week. “I’m worried more about playing hockey right now and getting our guys into the playoffs.”
Roenick is playing for a Stanley Cup contender in Philadelphia, but is making sure to savor this — his ninth All-Star experience. He is bringing his children to the game so he can share it with them.
“The All-Star game should be at a high pace,” he said. “We have some good players going, and I’m sure Minnesota is going to roll out the red carpet and be sure to treat it with the respect it deserves.”
If owners and players do the same, a year from now they can celebrate again in Atlanta.
Live Extra: Los Angeles' Tyler Toffoli sneaked a backhander past Antti Niemi, leveling the score after San Jose's Dan Boyle netted a power-play goal less than two minutes into the game.
PHT: Detroit scored four unanswered goals to top Chicago 4-1 on Saturday. The Western semifinals are now level at one game apiece. Game 3 is on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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