ATLANTA -- As I was wrapping up some work last night, mainly posting results for the skills competition, it was suddenly becoming apparent the evening didn't go off as smoothly as the NHL had probably hoped.
If you watched it last night, you were probably as confused as we were regarding the Fastest Skater competition. From our perspective in the press box, the first heat between Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith was, simply put, a spanking of the Sabres defenseman. Keith had at least a 5- to 10-foot lead on his opponent. It was clear Martin St. Louis won his heat, but no one informed the crowd who won the Kovalchuk-Horcoff race. (It looked like Horcoff on the replay, but a definitive result would have been nice.) No times were announced in the arena, so we were all left scratching our heads. Even the final heat, with Kovalchuk opting out for Campbell -- was left unexplained.
As one of the reporters here joked last night, "This is the building where Shaq got his phantom sixth foul, so it wouldn't surprise me if the fastest skater competition was off, too."
When a sheet listing all the results was passed out, everyone turned to the fastest skater first. And what did the NHL have for that first heat?
Keith: 4.998. Campbell: 4.673.
(We figured this is why Campbell ended up in the final heat, because his "time" was one-tenth of a second faster than Kovalchuk's.)
I suppose there are explanations for this -- the timers could have been based on triggers for when the player starts and finishes, regardless of whether he "wins" the race. But if that's the case, why bother pitting players against each other? Just let them sprint individually and get their time. If the NHL preferred the one-to-one heats for the excitement factor, then they shouldn't be bothering with time.
I can't say I hated the new format, since it's a different perspective in measuring the fastest skater. In previous years, the event really showcased the player who could maintain top speed through the course of a lap. The new way focuses on the acceleration factor -- which was very obvious in the final heat by Horcoff, who began the race with a flawless start.
The NHL had a good idea for the event, it just wasn't executed very well. It is something I expect will undergo some tweaking before 2009.