This year’s NHL All-Star game won’t have any sort of dramatic John Scott-type storylines, but there will be some talented new faces to go with some familiar names that we’ve become accustomed to for All-Star weekend.
Earlier today, the NHL unveiled the rosters for each of the four teams involved in this year’s All-Star festivities. The league will use the same 3-on-3 tournament format as last year, as all four divisions will be represented by a roster of six forwards, three defensemen, and two goaltenders. League rules mandate that every team must have at least one representative. In the semifinals, the Pacific Division and Central Division will face off, while the Metropolitan Division and Atlantic Division will go head-to-head, with the winner facing off in the championship round. Each game will be one 20-minute period divided into two 10-minute halves.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning have had a very difficult opening half to their 2016-17 season, they can take solace that Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman have been named to the Atlantic Division team. It will be the first All-Star game appearance for both players. Kucherov paces the Bolts in goals (16) and points (39), and is also in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring. Hedman has seven goals, but leads the Lightning and all NHL defensemen in assists with 30, a number that puts him third overall in the NHL for all players in that category.
We’ll take a division-by-division look at each roster, which players were surprises, which players were either the biggest snubs or left off because there just wasn’t enough room, and what each team’s most exciting trios could be. Captains were voted on by the fans and will have a “C” in parentheses next to their name.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Frans Nielsen, Detroit Red Wings
Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres
Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (C)
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens
Tampa Bay, Boston, and Montreal lead the way with two players each, and several players will be making their All-Star debuts, including Hedman, Kucherov, Trocheck, Okposo, Marchand, and Matthews, the rookie phenom who is tied with Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for the rookie goal-scoring lead with 21. Not too much to complain about with this lineup, with a couple exceptions, of course.
Best three-man units: The sight of Kucherov, Matthews, and Karlsson on the ice together would be one to behold. Matthews has the muscle to drive to the net and the skill to create, while Kucherov is a dynamic force with the puck on his stick as a shooter and a playmaker. But it would all start with Karlsson, whose ability to drive puck possession from the blue line and create off the rush would be the catalyst. Swap out Karlsson with Hedman and you still couldn’t go wrong. Trocheck, Marchand, and Weber would be an intriguing possibility as well.
Biggest surprises: While Nielsen is a very good player at both ends of the ice, it was kind of surprising to see him get the nod, especially for a Red Wings team that has Henrik Zetterberg, Anthony Mantha, and even Thomas Vanek putting up better numbers than him. Nielsen has 22 points in 40 games, only three more than Mantha, who has played in 15 fewer games and is a plus-11. Vanek and Zetterberg have more points than Nielsen and are also plus players. Nielsen is a minus-12. Trocheck is having a solid season for the Panthers with 12 goals and 24 points, but it’s hardly what you’d call All-Star worthy. Since so much of this game is based on star power and name recognition, it’s kind of hard to believe that Jaromir Jagr didn’t get selected, as he has one more point than Trocheck and is tied for the team lead in assists with 18.
Biggest snubs: Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty is having a fantastic season, leading Montreal in goals (19) and points (34), and his performance is a perfect example of why the NHL should consider either abolishing the rule that every team has to have a representative or expand the rosters to include two more forwards and one more defenseman. Jonathan Marchessault is having a great season for Florida, currently sitting tied with Trocheck for the team lead in goals (12) and second in points (25). With four teams in the division sending one player, someone was going to get snubbed, and Marchessault was one of those guys. I don’t think anyone would object if the rosters were expanded, thus creating room for Pacioretty and Marchessault to be included, although that’s not going to happen this year.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (C)
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
Due to the star power involved and the overall success of the majority of the division over the first half of the season, there’s no reason the Metro shouldn’t be the heavy favorites heading into All-Star weekend. Crosby is having a career season and is on pace to threaten 60 goals. He and Malkin are both in the top five in the NHL in points, while Ovechkin has 19 goals. The Blue Jackets have sent two players and their head coach to the festivities, although a couple of their best players have been left home (more on that in a bit).
Best three-man unit: This one is the no-brainer to end all no-brainers: The trio of Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin. If you don’t want to see those three play together, there’s something wrong with you. The only question is whether or not they’ll be put together for the entire tournament or just a few shifts. But no matter how often we see them on the ice together, it’ll be must-see TV.
Biggest surprises: Although Faulk will be making his third All-Star appearance, you could make a strong case for his teammate, Jaccob Slavin, to go instead. Faulk has seven goals compared to one for Slavin, but Faulk’s 17 points from the blue line are only one more than Slavin, whose plus-11 is far superior to Faulk’s minus-10. While one might argue that Faulk’s plus-minus is affected by his power play contributions, he only has one more power play point than Slavin. They each play just over 23 minutes a game, and Faulk has also missed time due to injury. This will be the first All-Star appearance for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, who has had a nice season, but I can’t see putting him ahead of Jakub Voracek, who leads the Flyers in points with 39, a mark that is also good for 12th overall in the league.
Biggest snubs: This is another case where expanding the rosters would have done wonders. A pair of Columbus Blue Jackets who are very deserving were left home simply because there just wasn’t enough room and because every team must be represented. Seth Jones is having a very good season on the Columbus blue line, but Zach Werenski has had a sensational rookie season on the back end, leading all rookie defenseman with 25 points. He is also tied with McDonagh and Justin Schultz for most points among blue liners in the Metro Division. Werenski and Jones’s teammate, Cam Atkinson, has an even bigger gripe for being left off the team, as he leads the Blue Jackets in goals (20) and points (40). His play has been a big reason why Columbus sits on top of the NHL standings. In addition, New York Rangers forward Michael Grabner could also make a case for being included, as he leads the Rangers with 19 goals and a plus-22 rating.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators (C)
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild
The Blackhawks lead all NHL teams with four representatives, although one of those selected players publicly said he has teammates that were far more deserving than him (more on that in a bit). Each of the other three Chicago players is pretty deserving of their spot. Laine was having a fantastic season for Winnipeg until suffering a concussion last Saturday that reportedly will keep him out indefinitely. Subban was named captain of this team by way of the fan vote, but he hasn’t played since December 15th due to an ongoing upper-body injury. Of the four teams participating, this is one that could see the most turnover by the time All-Star weekend rolls around due to the injuries to Subban and Laine.
Best three-man unit: If Laine and Subban are able to return for the tournament, then this roster’s best trio will undoubtedly be Subban on the blue line with Kane and Laine up front. Few can generate offense from the blue line or lead a rush quite like Subban, while Kane setting up Laine has entertainment value written all over it. If Laine is unavailable, you could easily pair Tarasenko, Seguin, or MacKinnon with Kane, and they probably wouldn’t miss a beat. Even a trio like MacKinnon, Tarasenko, and Keith would be very intriguing. If Subban ends up missing the game because of his injury, his Predators teammate, Roman Josi, would be a quality replacement to ensure that each team is still represented during the tournament.
Biggest surprise: Remember how we mentioned a prominent Blackhawks player that felt he had teammates that were more worthy of an All-Star spot than him? That player is none other than Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who is no stranger to All-Star weekend. Toews told the media on Monday that he wasn’t sure why he was selected to the game.
“Most of the time, I guess it’s an honor. This time, it’s a little bittersweet,” Toews said. “I have to completely admit there’s a handful of guys on this team that are more deserving, especially this season.”
Toews has seven goals and 21 points, far off his typical offensive pace. I would agree with him: he hasn’t had his best season, and hasn’t even been the best player on his own team. Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, and Artemi Panarin all have been far more deserving options for the All-Star game. This leads us to our next category:
Biggest snubs: Last season, Panarin won the Calder Trophy, although a lot of people felt like he benefited from playing on the same line as Kane, who won the scoring title and was the NHL’s MVP. This season, Panarin has proven that he’s no fluke, currently sitting second on the team in goals (17), third in assists (25), and second in points (42). His point total is currently the sixth-highest in the entire NHL. Yet he’s not going to be participating in this tournament. That doesn’t make sense. Another snub that might actually find himself in the game is Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele. Scheifele is in a three-way tie with Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers for the Jets’ lead in points (37) and is also second on the team in goals (17). He continues to blossom into a number-one caliber center and is the man in the middle of the Jets’ top line with Laine and Ehlers. With Laine on the shelf, it’s a possbility that Scheifele could find himself in the All-Star tournament.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (C)
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks
Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks
Mike Smith, Arizona Coyotes
Peter DeBoer, San Jose Sharks
Each of the three California teams will send at least two players to the All-Star game, with the defending Western Conference champion Sharks leading the way with three players taking part, as well as their head coach. McDavid, the league’s leading scorer with 48 points, will be participating in his first All-Star contest after missing last year’s game due to a broken collarbone. Horvat, Fowler, and Jones will also be making their first All-Star game appearances.
Best three-man unit: If the Metropolitan Division’s potential grouping of Ovechkin, Crosby, and Malkin is the biggest no-brainer idea of this tournament, then the idea of putting McDavid, Gaudreau, and Burns together is a very close second in the no-brainer rankings. In terms of pure speed, there’s probably no other group that’s more suited to 3-on-3 than those three guys. Burns leads all NHL defensemen in goals (16) and points (42) and is capable of taking over a game in all three zones. If McDavid gets a step on you, he’s gone. Gaudreau may be slight in stature, but he’s also a highly-skilled player with speed to burn.
Biggest surprise: When you look at this roster, there isn’t a player that really jumps out as a surprise addition that shouldn’t be there. Although the Sedin twins are in the twilight of their careers in Vancouver, it wouldn’t have been surprising if they had gotten the nod despite not having All-Star caliber seasons, much like what happened with Toews. That didn’t happen, though, as Horvat is the lone Canucks representative, which is well-deserved. Horvat is an emerging star who has 13 goals and 29 points at the time of this writing, shining as one of the few legitimate offensive threats that Vancouver has.
Biggest snub: The Pacific Division squad is the only one where the goaltending choices are in question. Jones has been very good for the Sharks for the second season in a row. Smith has been even better for a terrible Coyotes team. But what about Cam Talbot? Talbot has been a workhorse for the Oilers this season and a big reason why they’re making a strong push for a postseason spot for the first time in several years. Talbot and Smith both have better 5-on-5 save percentages than Jones, who plays behind a much more defensively sound team in San Jose. The Sharks give up the third-fewest shots per game in the league and have allowed the fourth-lowest goals per game. Jones has played well, but he hasn’t had to carry his team. Smith has been under siege the entire season, as the Coyotes allow 34 shots on goal a game, the highest number in the league. As for Talbot, his team is closer to the middle of the pack defensively in terms of goals allowed and shots allowed per game. In the end, I think the goaltending duo for the Pacific Division should have been Smith and Talbot.
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