TAMPA, Fla. – Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette remembers Wild center Eric Staal as an eager pupil who made a major impact on the Carolina Hurricanes — before and after they won the Stanley Cup in 2006.
“He is a terrific player,” Laviolette said.
And what helped Staal blossom into that reputation was Laviolette’s mentorship.
“He pushed me to realize that I can be a very good player in Carolina,” Staal said. “That was important because small-town kid, I didn’t really think anything of it. But when you have someone in your corner pushing you, ‘Hey, you can do something special things,’ it helps push you, and he was one of those guys for me.”
Staal was reunited with Laviolette over the weekend at the NHL All-Star Game, as they both represented the Central Division — Staal as the Wild’s lone nod and Laviolette as coach after a strong first half by his Predators.
It’s possible their careers could have overlapped again, as Staal chatted with Laviolette two summers ago when he was a free agent to gauge Nashville, in addition to also considering St. Louis and Boston.
Ultimately, though, Staal settled on the Wild, and the partnership has been a boon for both sides.
“I’m happy to see him here representing their team because he’s a good person,” Laviolette said, “and good things should happen to good people.”
Burnsville native Brock Boeser was named MVP of the All-Star Game after his three-point performance, including two goals, helped the Pacific Division outlast the Atlantic Division 5-2 in the final game of the tournament.
The Atlantic advanced after a 7-4 win over the Metropolitan, but it couldn’t keep pace with the Pacific. Boeser scored the winner in his team’s first game against the Central, a 5-2 victory, and then added another goal and assist in the finale.
Not only did he secure a share of the $1 million prize split among the Pacific players, but he also received a new car for being MVP and nabbed $25,000 for winning the accuracy shooting contest in the skills competition Saturday.
“I was pretty shocked, and I would never have expected that,” said the Canucks rookie, who might give the car to his sister. “There’s so many guys on our team that could have got MVP. There’s so many talented guys here, and I was just really happy to be here with these guys.”
Seattle is working on an expansion application that could be ready to file in the “not-too-distant future,” said Commissioner Gary Bettman, who didn’t expect the potential addition of a 32nd franchise to create much of a realignment issue — although that is a factor the league would look at in the expansion process.
Bettman also wasn’t in favor of changing the playoff format if another team was added to the mix.
As far as Quebec City, Bettman said the league is not focused on a team there and isn’t currently considering an application from it.
Pucks and pirates
Hockey fans weren’t the only ones descending on Tampa over the weekend.
The city also was overrun with pirate enthusiasts.
All-Star weekend in Tampa overlapped with the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which has been a local tradition since 1904 and is one of the reasons the NHL wanted to host its annual exhibition here.
“Doing it with Gasparilla,” Bettman said, “ … that was unusual in a very good way. It’s a lot of fun.”