No one could deny this particular election was rigged, but few were crying foul.
In an NHL All-Star Game staged in Toronto, getting four Maple Leafs on a team in blue sweaters designed by their super-fan celebrity manager Justin Bieber wasn’t a shock.
Now captain Auston Matthews, alternate Morgan Rielly and top picks Mitch Marner and William Nylander can expect a fight from the five Vancouver Canucks who ended up on Quinn Hughes’ club as well as the team led by GTA native Connor McDavid as four sides try for $1 million US on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
Choosing second overall after Vancouver captain Hughes and Canadian singer Michael Buble led off with Nikita Kucherov, Matthews followed with Nylander. The draft snaked backward with McDavid overlooking Marner for David Pastrnak and captain Nathan MacKinnon deciding on his Colorado goalie teammate Alexandar Georgiev, leaving Marner for longtime linemate Matthews.
“There was a lot of discussion about what to do with that second pick,” said Matthews. “But we love Mitchy and didn’t want him to sweat it out.”
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Matthews and Marner are off-ice friends with Bieber, whose design team also drew up Toronto’s reversible third jersey. Marner said he also knows Bieber’s competitive streak from pickup sports through the years and assures the Stratford native is “dead-a– serious” about winning Saturday.
It’s Rielly’s first all-star experience after more than 900 NHL games, but he was just as happy that team points leader Nylander was also named to the all-star collective last month.
“He’s had an outstanding year with his ($92-million) contract extension and our trip to Sweden,” Rielly said of Nylander. “He’s worked extremely hard, a truly special player.”
The rest of their team consists of Jake Oettinger (Dallas) and Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers) in net, but no defencemen other than Rielly. Clayton Keller (Arizona), Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Filip Forsberg (Nashville) and Alex DeBrincat (Detroit) were taken before there were four lonely looking players remaining on the Scotiabank Arena stage.
Rather than subject them to the Phil Kessel torture of a few years ago, a novel way of sparing the quartet’s feelings was achieved.
Hall of Fame Leaf Dave Keon, honoured later with the rest of the 1967 Stanley Cup champions, came out with four envelopes, handing one to Vincent Trocheck (New York Rangers), Frank Vatrano (Anaheim), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Seattle) and Tomas Hertl (San Jose). Inside was a picture of each celebrity captain (actor Will Arnett and singer Tate McRae were the others). Keon paused to admire Trocheck’s Rangers sweater – the only Original Six in the bunch – and indeed the centre wound up with the four Leafs.
Hughes and his Canucks alternate, Elias Pettersson, were joined by goalie Thatcher Demko and forwards Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller. Newest Canuck Elias Lindholm, a Calgary Flame until Wednesday, ended up with MacKinnon, who plays McDavid in the first 20-minute 3-on-3 game Saturday. Team Hughes then takes on the Leafs-infused Matthews side with the two winners advancing.
“We wanted to try and mix up our team, not just keep it within our division,” Rielly said of staying away from Atlantic players other than DeBrincat. “We enjoyed the draft. There wasn’t a lot of talk about strategy beforehand.”
McDavid and his Edmonton lieutenant Leon Draisaitl had good Canadian content with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck in net and Montreal’s Nick Suzuki up front.
“Bragging rights mean a lot in my hometown,” said the 53-year-old Arnett as he and the Burnaby, B.C.-born Buble shared the post-draft podium. “Am I going to run it in Michael’s face? Yeah, a lot.
“Were there (draft) deals? You guys might call it collusion. We call it ‘working things out.’”