Like the game itself, second-guessing the picks made for NHL All-Star Games has become a sport.
That is even more true of the new format, which pits 11-man teams (6 F, 3D, 2 G) from each division in three-game tournament, with 3-on-3 being the chosen mode of play. Exciting stuff.
With that, the NHL announced the rosters for the tourney to be played at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.
Many of the picks weren’t all that surprising, including four from the front-running and host Lightning. NHL leading scorer Nikita Kucherov, along with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy are all very deserving of inclusion on the Atlantic Division team.
The rest of the teams sport a sprinkling of veterans (Sidney Crosby of the Metropolitan) and newcomers (Brock Boeser of the Pacific) alike.
There are, however, quite a few players we here at SportsBreak deem worthy and could easily supplant others — but the NHL has mandated that equal representation thing, making it difficult. Here are 16, with two forwards, one defenceman and one goalie from each division (starting with Atlantic, then Metropolitan, Central and Pacific) who we consider got snubbed, because the best should be there.
16. F Jonathan Huberdeau – Florida Panthers, Atlantic Division
We don’t have many objections to the forwards chosen for the Atlantic Division, except for maybe Jack Eichel. He got Buffalo’s only spot based on every team having one player in the tournament, but in the grand scheme, he is three points back of Huberdeau among Eastern Conference forwards. Eichel also sports a miserable -13 on a lousy Sabres squad, while Huberdeau is -1. From another view, Huberdeau is also more dynamic on the powerplay, with four goals and 12 points on the man advantage and he is the third leading scorer among all forwards in the Atlantic. With the more free-wheeling style of 3-on-3, that kind of production would be welcome on the Atlantic side.
15. F Mark Stone – Ottawa Senators, Atlantic Division
The Senators are not having a very good year. Yet, fourth-year vet Stone is having the best season of his career. With 42 points in 42 games (he is fourth among all Atlantic forwards in scoring), he is on pace to easily eclipse his career best mark of 64 set during his rookie season. Stone has 18 goals this season, three of them game-winners and has scored across all facets, including powerplay and shorthanded. On a minus team (the Sens goal differential is -32), Stone is a healthy +10 and his possession metrics, while down from 2016-17, are still positive (51.2 Corsi and 100.9 PDO). In a three-on-three format Stone’s skating and puckhandling skills would be showcased, as well as his ability to strip opponents of the puck (47 takeaways against 32 giveaways this season).
14. D Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins, Atlantic Division
The only defenceman on the Atlantic team who we feel is deserving is Tampa’s Victor Hedman. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is having a miserable season, by his lofty standards and Detroit’s Mike Green gets the blue ribbon for equal representation. So, as Hedman grabs one of four Lightning positions, we give the snub to Boston’s Charlie McAvoy. Among rookie defencemen in the NHL, he trails only Tampa’s Mikhail Sergachev and New Jersey’s Will Butcher, by two points (26 to 24). The Bruins have been red-hot of late, having not lost in regulation in since the middle of December, going 10-0-4. In that stretch, freshman McAvoy had a goal and seven assists and sported a plus-minus of +15. Overall, McAvoy has five goals and 19 assists in 42 games, is +16 and is playing 22:47 average minutes per game, which is highest among all rookie rearguards in the NHL. He should be in Tampa.
13. G Frederik Andersen – Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlantic Division
The Leafs are where they are today because of Andersen, not in spite of him. The Leafs sit third in the Atlantic, comfortably 11 points up on fourth place Detroit precisely because Andersen gives them a chance to win, even when they don’t deserve it. And we believe he’s a much better goalie at this point, than All-Star netminder Carey Price. Andersen has a better goals against than Price (2.67 to 2.96), save percentage (.922 to .908) and more shutouts (3 to 1). Andersen has also faced a deluge of shots, 1,303 to be exact, which is highest in the NHL. That works out to a whopping 34.28 shots against per game, while Price has faced just 30.87 (988 shots in 32 games). Andersen’s a gamer worthy of his first All-Star nomination.
12. F Jakub Voracek – Philadelphia Flyers, Metropolitan Division
The only reason Jakub Voracek doesn’t make the Metro Division team is that teammate Claude Giroux is having a better season, but only marginally. As of Wednesday, Voracek was tied for 6th in league scoring, with eight goals and a NHL best 45 assists. That he isn’t included is a severe oversight, as he outpoints all other Metropolitan All-Star forwards except Giroux and John Tavares. He leads Sidney Crosby by four, Alex Ovechkin by four, Taylor Hall by eight and Josh Bailey by three. If it weren’t for what is probably bad luck, Voracek would have a lot more goals this season, which is scary to think about. He has launched 140 shots on net, for a 5.7 percent efficiency rating, so when he does starting finding the net, look out.
11. F Phil Kessel – Pittsburgh Penguins, Metropolitan Division
Seven years ago, Phil Kessel had the misfortune of being the last pick in the 2011 All-Star draft, 42 out of 42. He took it in stride, as he does the constant speculation about his physical fitness. What Kessel does do well, is score. He is just ahead of Voracek in scoring at 54 points and we think he should be at the game in place of Sidney Crosby. It just makes us think that the All-Star game is a popularity contest, where the schlumpy Kessel gets snubbed in favor of poster boy Crosby. Not that Sid the Kid isn’t having a decent season himself (49 points), but Kessel is the Penguins’ engine this year. The speedy Kessel has 21 goals and has added 33 assists, putting him on pace to easily have the best season of his career. A solid thumbs down to All-Star voters on his exclusion.
10. D John Carlson – Washington Capitals, Metropolitan Division
Almost as egregious an oversight as Phil Kessel, Washington rearguard John Carlson deserves to be in the All-Star tournament ahead of Pittsburgh D Kris Letang. Carlson is having a heck of a season and wholly deserves to be in his first All-Star shinny tournament. He is second among all NHL defencemen in points with 35 and has logged a career high 26:10 in minutes played on average. Sure, he is a -2, but he plays against every team’s top line. By comparison, Letang has 28 points and is -15 so far in 2017-18, while playing 25:45 per contest. Letang has been an All-Star on three other occasions, but we can’t see how he supplants Carlson for the Metro squad.
9. G Sergei Bobrovsky – Columbus Blue Jackets, Metropolitan Division
“Bob” has been far more impactful to the Columbus Blue Jackets chances this season than Metro All-Star netminders Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby have been to their teams. The Jackets, who trail the Rangers in goals scored by 13, are two points ahead of New York because Bobrovsky has shut the door far better than New York’s Lundqvist. They have both played 38 games and Bobrovsky has more wins (21) than King Henrik (20), a better goals against average (2.44 to 2.54) and more shutouts (4 to 2). The gap is even wider on Holtby in three categories, they being goals against average (2.44 to 2.66), save percentage (.920 to .917) and shutouts (4 to 0). And Washington had scored 16 more goals overall, as of Wednesday. Again, we believe this is a personality contest, with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner on the outside looking in.
8. F Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis Blues, Central Division
This is an All-Star showdown, so how in the heck does one of the game’s most electric players, who is also having a fine season, get overlooked? We won’t argue at length about the Central Division choices, however, Tarasenko could easily be there ahead of Eric Staal, teammate Brayden Schenn (who he’s tied with in points) or Tyler Seguin. Yes, Schenn is a having a bounce back season, but no one brings the fans out of their seats like Tarasenko, who would kill in the 3-on-3 format. Staal is a nice addition, but we feel his inclusion is based on equal representation, more so than merit, even if he is having a good year. As for Seguin, well, it’s apples to apples. The “Tarasenk-show” should be wheeling around Amalie in a couple weeks.
7. F Jamie Benn – Dallas Stars, Central Division
In terms of who from Dallas gets to go to the All-Star tournament, Tyler Seguin isn’t even the Stars top scorer. We see the reason for the Central Division having leading defensive scorer John Klingberg on board, but Seguin over Benn (and even Alexander Radulov, who is also ahead of Seguin in points) can be argued. Benn has been superior to Seguin in a couple of categories, notably shooting percentage (12.9 to 11.8), plus-minus (+8 to +1) and powerplay points (14 to 13). Omitting Benn isn’t a massive oversight, but he’s on track to have his best statistical campaign since 2015-16 when he had 89 points.
6. F Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets, Central Division
We had absolutely no problem with the defence selections for the Central Division, so we added an extra forward snub, he being super sophomore Patrik Laine. He no doubt suffers exclusion for the fact that Jets teammates Blake Wheeler (having a massive season) and G Connor Hellebuyck (also outstanding) made the Central squad. Know this, though. Patrik Laine is one of the game’s rising stars who is still scoring at great clip, despite extra attention paid to players like him who may have fooled people in their rookie seasons. Laine, who had 36 goals in 2016-17, has 20 this year and is tracking to have at least that number by season’s end. If anything, he is consistent, but not boringly so. His speed and shot should be on display, but sadly won’t be.
5. G Ben Bishop – Dallas Stars, Central Division
The Stars were absolutely a mess in goal last season, a big reason they missed the playoffs. Enter Bishop, who immediately solidified Big D’s goaltending and is a big part of the Stars resurgence. Of the two goalies selected to the Central team, we agree wholeheartedly with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, but Bishop is easily as good as Pekka Rinne — and Hellebuyck for that matter. While all their numbers are quite close, we would have given Bishop the nod based on the simple fact that he has handled all the pressure of turning the Dallas franchise around this year, especially after how bad the tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were in 2016-17. The Central will be mostly fine in net with Hellebuyck/Rinne, but lacks a little true star power.
4. F Sean Monahan – Calgary Flames, Pacific Division
Rikard Rakell is a nice player for Anaheim, but there is no way he should be at the All-Star tournament ahead of Calgary’s Sean Monahan (among a few others). This is easily Monahan’s best season since breaking in during the 2013-14 campaign and with 21 goals and 21 assists so far he should eclipse his personal best output of 63 points in 2015-16. What makes him special this year, too, are the seven game-winning goals he’s tallied, which is tops in the NHL. To illustrate Monahan’s worth to the suddenly contending Calgary Flames, his output during this recent seven-game winning streak can’t be understated. He missed the last victory with an illness, but in the six victories before that, Monahan scored four goals and six assists. Easily a snub, here.
3. F William Karlsson – Vegas Golden Knights, Pacific Division
The Vegas Golden Knights are the surprise of this NHL season, steamrolling their way to the top spot in the Western Conference and possibly home ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs. They do have two representatives, forward James Neal and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, yet we can’t help but feel it’s a pretty big oversight not having snipe machine William Karlsson in the fold. The kid has surpassed all expectations this season, firing 23 goals as of Wednesday, putting him sixth on the NHL ledger. Put it this way, that is already more goals than he scored in his first 183 games (18). The argument could be made that he, as well as Jonathan Marchessault, could take the place of Neal, who has a pedestrian 29 points.
2. D Darnell Nurse – Edmonton Oilers, Pacific Division
The only defenceman on the Pacific Division team that we think is totally worthy is Drew Doughty. Brent Burns, so great a year ago when he won the Norris, is somehow a -17 on one of the stingiest teams in hockey. He is third in scoring among all rearguards, but won’t come close to the 29 goals and 76 points he scored in 2016-17. As for the other D-man, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, he gets the sympathy inclusion being the “best” player on a bad team. He has 21 points and is -39. Therefore, we take umbrage with the whole “everyone gets a ribbon for participation” thing and yell loudly, again, that the best should be at the festivities. And among a rising cadre of young stars in the Pacific Division is Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse. On a team that is -21 collectively, Nurse is + 13 and enjoying a breakout year. He has already sped past career marks in goals with six (including two game winners), assists with 12 and points with 18.
1. G Mike Smith – Calgary Flames, Pacific Division
With a recent seven-game winning streak, the Flames have jetted themselves into the Western Conference post-season conversation. Goalie Mike Smith can’t take all the credit, but the veteran’s consistent good play of late has been welcome. Parachuted in from Arizona (traded for goalie Chad Johnson) when Brian Elliott bolted in free agency to Philadelphia, Smith was expected to solidify — for the time being — the goaltending situation. With six straight wins boosting his record to 20-13-3, Smith may come close to matching his career best mark of 38-18-10 in 2011-12. Smith’s numbers have all calmed down from brutal stats in Arizona, with his GAA at 2.46 and save percentage a healthy .924. Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury is one of two inclusions (Jonathan Quick is the other), however, his sample size (14 games, 9-3-2) should have been too small for him to be named ahead of a guy like Smith.