Though no points are on the line in the NHL this weekend, they still have quite a jam-packed weekend ahead.
The best from around the league will congregate in central Florida, as Tampa Bay will host the 63rd All-Star Game. Despite some open resentment from players in previous years, it's a chance for players to let loose and go toe-to-toe in a divisional three-on-three tournament. It's an event that has previously helped some Flyers earn new trucks, and as the Flyers' lone representative (which is almost criminal in its own right), Claude Giroux will look to be the second consecutive Flyer to earn MVP honors.
Sure, it's nice to spend All-Star Weekend in Tampa — nobody can deny that a weekend in Florida is a decent reprieve from those blustery Northeastern winters. But it's been a while since the Flyers hosted the festivities, and their time should come back soon.
The last time the Flyers hosted an All-Star Game — in the 1991-92 season — the NHL landscape was entirely different. Just 22 teams played, you could watch teams like the Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques, no trapezoids existed behind the net and Gary Bettman was still a little over a year from taking over as Commissioner. Including the fabled Spectrum where the game was played at, two stadiums that hosted the game have since closed. One franchise that hosted it — Atlanta in 2008 — no longer has a presence in that market. Clearly, it's been a while.
It's also been a while since the City of Philadelphia hosted an All-Star Game for any of its sports. While the NFL's Pro Bowl doesn't travel around as much, the last time Philadelphia hosted an All-Star Game was the NBA's in 2002, while the Phillies also hosted six years earlier. Since Wells Fargo Center's opening in 1996, it has hosted the World Cup of Hockey, two Stanley Cup Finals, Republican and Democratic National Conventions, WrestleMania, countless concerts and numerous family events.
Wells Fargo Center also played host to the NHL Draft in 2014, showcasing Philadelphia to the hockey community at large. Sure, the fans were quite vocal in booing Bettman (what franchise, Vegas aside, wouldn't?) but overall, it was a supreme opportunity for the Flyers to be front and center. That fervor and passion could easily be duplicated for an All-Star Game, and with renovations to the arena complete for several years now, the location is optimal.
Throughout the NHL's new-stadium boom throughout the 1990s and 2000s, eight new rinks had hosted All-Star games within several years after opening. Wells Fargo Center, along with Scottrade Center (St. Louis), KeyBank Arena (Buffalo) and United Center (Chicago) are 90s-built stadia that have not had the honor.
Of course, heading to the balmy climates is a typical move for the NHL. It's understandable to want to get a break from the cold, and selling a late January weekend is a lot easier to do in Tampa, Dallas or Los Angeles rather than Philly, New York or Boston.
At the same time, it allows the NHL to continue their ever-controversial strategy of developing the game in the non-traditional markets. This is part of why Florida, Southern California, Dallas, Atlanta, Carolina and Nashville have hosted games since 1998, and why we could see games in Arizona and Vegas in the not-so-distant future. Regardless of how one may feel on the matter, it's easy to see where the NHL is coming from there.
Naturally, it could be worse for the Flyers — they could be shut out entirely. Anaheim, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, Winnipeg and, well, Vegas have not yet been awarded All-Star Game bids. Vegas and Winnipeg are still quite new, and their time will come. Somehow, the Devils and Capitals never hosted, despite being in their markets for 36 and 44 years, respectively — almost seems like an oversight on somebody's part.
A lot has happened across the NHL and with the Flyers since they last hosted the All-Star Game in 1992. They should host the third in franchise history soon — it's something they're due for.