It was before the Blackhawks’ most recent game in Edmonton, while looking at a forecast of subzero temperatures, when Seth Jones really began warming — literally and figuratively — to the idea of going to Florida for the NHL All-Star Game.
Although he was chosen mainly because every team needed to be represented, the Hawks’ lone All-Star ended up looking like one of the more eager participants at the annual midseason festivities. It was his fourth career All-Star appearance and fifth selection.
Results and statistics are hardly the focal point of the weekend — judging by the players’ collective effort level, no one seemed to care — but Jones technically finished with three points in the Central Division’s two 20-minute games of three-on-three Saturday in Sunrise, Florida.
The Central beat the Pacific 6-4 in the first semifinal but lost 7-5 to the Atlantic in the championship, meaning the Central still hasn’t won an All-Star tournament since the NHL switched to this format eight years ago.
In the semifinal win, Jones scored by stripping the puck from Ducks forward Troy Terry and finishing off a two-on-zero with Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, beating Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson. He later added assists on two goals by Coyotes forward Clayton Keller.
Jones was held off the board in the championship loss, however, as Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark denied him on several high-danger chances. He was called for a rare All-Star penalty shot when he hooked Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the final minute.
One more point by Jones would’ve broken the record for points by a defenseman in this All-Star format, not that many defensemen even get the opportunity — only six attended this year’s event.
In the skills competition Friday, Jones was less successful in the hardest-shot competition, finishing fourth among the five entrants with shots of 94.7 and 93.2 mph. Canucks forward Elias Pettersson won with a 103.2 mph bomb.
The whole weekend was seemingly lacking energy and pizzazz. Despite the addition of a few inventive Florida-related skills events — playing golf with hockey pucks and sticks; shooting pucks on the beach to knock down surfboards and activate “dunk tanks” — the effort level and general happiness of the All-Stars seemed even lower than usual.
It could be time for another format change — which worked wonders in 2015, when this three-on-three tournament was introduced — but it’s also possible there’s no better alternative. It’s not as if other sports’ All-Star Games are thriving, either.
For Jones, the days in Florida warmth might increase his stamina more than Saturday’s light workout will reduce it heading into the final 34 games of the Hawks’ season.
The Hawks are scheduled to practice Sunday and Monday before hosting the Ducks on Tuesday and the Coyotes on Friday — two potentially massive games in the theoretical race for last place, not that any of the players and coaches involved have that organizational objective in mind.
The enormity of Jones’ contract — seven years left with a $9.5 million salary-cap hit — all but guarantees he won’t be one of the many Hawks hearing trade rumors in the weeks ahead.