by PuckStopsHere on 01/09/09 at 03:43 AM ET
Before the NHL announced who would participate in the All Star Game, I published my All Star rosters. Here are the NHL’s actual All Star rosters. There are several players I selected that the NHL did not and vice versa. It seems the main reason for discrepancies is that the NHL selected the most marketable player, whereas I picked the played who has been playing the best so far this season. The NHL would be more likely to make the representative for a team be their third or fourth best player this year if he is a recognizable name player and I would have been willing to pick a more unknown player who is having a better season, but in the process snub the bigger name player.
There were five players on the Eastern team and eight players on the Western team that we disagreed about. Here are those selections, with the explanation of why I picked the player that I did. I have paired off these players (i.e. I picked player X but the NHL picked player Y). In most cases the pairing is obvious (the representative for a given team), but in a couple cases it is not quite so clear.
I selected Nikolai Zherdev the NHL selected Henrik Lundqvist as the New York Rangers representative. Lundqvist is the most famous member of the current Rangers. He is a three time Vezina nominee (although finished well back in voting each time). The Lundqvist selection has been criticized on this site by Ranger blogger Patrick Hoffman who writes: if NHL management based their selections on the last two months, Lundqvist would not be on the team. Lundqvist is a good goalie. Given the lack of a serious Vezina front-runner, with a good second half he could find himself in the race. However, he isn’t a serious contender right now. His saves percentage is 25th best in the NHL sandwiched between Jaroslav Halak and Kari Lehtonen. That isn’t an All Star level season. There are goalies who lack the big name of Lundqvist who are having better seasons and I chose to place them on the team. Nikolai Zherdev is the top scorer on the Ranger team by eight points. It is a low scoring team and Zherdev is well below the point per game mark. However, he is the Rangers MVP at this point. He has been their most reliable player and unlike in past seasons has done it relatively consistently. The only problem is Zherdev is not nearly as big a household name as Lundqvist.
I selected Mike Smith the NHL selected Vincent LeCavalier. Tampa Bay has been a bad team this year. They are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. They have allowed the second most shots per game in the league. The only thing that has kept things from getting even uglier than they are is the goaltending of Mike Smith. Smith is not a serious Vezina candidate, but his .919 saves percentage is in the upper echelon of the NHL. He has done that with little support from a defence. On a good team that won some games, I think Smith would be getting some Vezina consideration. It is hardly his fault that Tampa is in the bad state that they are. Instead, the NHL chose to go with Vincent LeCavalier. He is a man who was routinely called one of the ten best players in the NHL before this season opened up. His 34 points in 39 games so far do not support that ranking, although on a more successful team it is quite likely he would be doing better. He is second in scoring on the Lightning behind Martin St Louis. He is second in +/- on the Lightning behind Martin St Louis. Should a Lightning skater make the team, the obvious choice based on play this season is Martin St Louis. However, LeCavalier is a bigger star. He is born and raised in Quebec, making him a hometown star to All Star Game host Montreal. Therefore he made the team and not Mike Smith or Martin St Louis.
I selected Craig Anderson the NHL selected Jay Bouwmeester as the Florida representative. Craig Anderson is an unknown backup goalie who has taken the NHL by storm this year. At the time of my selection, he led the NHL in saves percentage (he is now sitting behind Steve Mason - who also did not make the All Star Team). Anderson plays on the Florida Panthers who are the league worst in shot allowed and he has shared time with Tomas Vokoun (who is also a good goalie). This has limited him to 21 games played and only nine wins, but a good argument can be made that he has been the best goalie in the NHL this season. He certainly has been more valuable to his team than Jay Bouwmeester, who is the most famous member of the Panthers. Bouwmeester is the Panthers best defenceman and third highest scorer. He leads the NHL in total playing time (in part because he has one more game played than Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf who has more playing time per game). This is a testament to Bouwmeester’s versatility as well as to the fact that Florida is lacking in other alternatives to play a frontline role on their defence. With Mats Sundin playing in Vancouver, Bouwmeester’s likely move from Florida (he is a UFA this summer) may be one of the more covered stories in the remained of the season (where is he going?). That makes Bouwmeester a much more household name than Anderson, even though nobody would claim that an argument can be made that Bouwmeester has been the best defenceman in the NHL this season (though he is clearly a good one) and the argument can be made that Anderson has been the best goalie. Once again, the NHL took the more famous player over the guy who is playing better this season.
I selected Dennis Wideman the NHL selected Zdeno Chara as a defenceman. Both of these players are teammates in Boston and neither player was to be the lone selection from the Bruins. Wideman has more points than Chara and a league leading +/- rating (as of when I made the selection - that is no longer true). Chara plays about 40 seconds per game more than Wideman and against tougher competition. It is clear that both of these players have been All Star calibre strengths on the Bruin defence. Due to roster size limits only one could make it. I chose the player who is doing better statistically. The NHL chose the player who is the bigger star. That is a good example of the reason for the discrepancies in our rosters. When in doubt, the NHL took the more famous player and I took the one who has been better so far this season.
I selected Mike Green the NHL selected Tim Thomas as a final player. This pick was a free pick in that he could come from any team. Both players are worthy of All Star selection. It was a function of which position was left available for this pick to determine which player was selected. The NHL chose to overlook team MVP, but relatively unknown, goalies in Mike Smith and Craig Anderson and left a goalie position open. By selecting Jay Bouwmeester instead of Anderson, their defence was full. Tim Thomas being selected over Mike Green is consistent with the NHL philosophy of picking the most marketable player. More has been written about Thomas than about Green this season and he is a better known player. In a perfect world, both of these players should be All Stars.
I selected Paul Stastny the NHL selected Milan Hejduk to represent Colorado. Stastny is the top scorer of the Colorado Avalanche. He is also hurt and will not be able to play in the All Star Game. Hejduk is second on the team and is a good replacement for Stastny. When I make injury replacements on my team, likely Hejduk will replace Stastny. That pick makes sense. It is quite reasonable to not select injured players who will not be in the All Star Game. That makes the next selection harder to understand.
I selected Daniel Sedin the NHL selected Roberto Luongo to represent Vancouver. Luongo is injured. He is out indefinitely with a groin problem. The odds of his being back in time for the All Star Game are extremely low. He was having a good season when he went down injured. Given the lack of a Vezina front-runner at this point, if Luongo can return soon he would have a serious chance of winning the award. Luongo is widely considered the best goalie in hockey today and is a very marketable player - except that he won’t play in the all Star Game due to injury. If Craig Anderson is a questionable All Star choice given his 21 games played, Luongo is worse with on 19 games played. Among players who can actually play in the All Star Game, Daniel Sedin is deserving. He is scoring at point per game rate and leads the Canucks in points. He is not as marketable a player as Luongo, but he is healthy. He can actually play in the game. The NHL will likely replace Luongo (and any other injured players) before the game occurs. Last season, they did not bother to ensure each team was represented in the game with their injury replacements. This leaves a good chance that Vancouver will be left without an All Star representative. Curtis Sanford and Jason LaBarbera (the current Canuck goalies) are hardly All Star worthy. It would require a forward injury for Sedin to have a chance to be inserted in the game (and there is no guarantee he would be the player selected). There was a time the NHL did maintain one player per team even with injury replacements (John Garrett once replaced the injured Richard Brodeur in goal for the Canucks and played surprising well). If the Colorado top scorer and current MVP in Paul Stastny cannot be selected as an All Star due to injury, how can Roberto Luongo who has been out the past 6 weeks be selected? He is not the Canucks MVP at this point. He is not going to play in the All Star Game. He is, however, the most marketable player on the Canucks at least assuming his health.
I selected Brad Boyes the NHL selected Keith Tkachuk to represent St Louis. Boyes has four more goals and seven more points than Tkachuk. Tkachuk has 1000 career points and is a better known player. Thus he was the Blues selection.
I selected Brad Richards the NHL selected Mike Modano to represent Dallas. Richards is the top scorer on the Stars. Modano is fourth. Modano is a future Hall of Famer with over 1300 career points. Hence he is more marketable and was selected.
I selected Steve Mason the NHL selected Rick Nash to represent Columbus. Mason currently leads the NHL in saves percentage (he was second to Craig Anderson when I made my rosters). He lost his roster spot to the injured Roberto Luongo (but may get it back since Luongo won’t play). Nash leads the Blue Jackets with 39 points in 40 games and would also be worthy of a roster spot. Mason has been the better player so far. Mason has to be considered a serious Vezina candidate at this point and Nash is not a serious candidate to any award. It is possible that Mason, being a rookie, is being saved for the Young Stars game. The NHL has tinkered with its make-up so much in the past few years I have no idea how to predict its teams. Last season, there were no goalies in the Young Stars game. The goalies who had made the All Star Game played - even though many were not young by any reasonable measure. If that remains true this year, there is no room for Steve Mason is a Young Stars game as there are no Young Star goalies. Rick Nash has been the face of the Blue Jacket franchise and is more marketable than Mason, so he got selected. It is unclear if there is a Young Star spot being saves for Steve Mason.
I selected Kyle Quincey the NHL selected Dustin Brown to represent Los Angeles. Quincey is an example of an unknown player having a good season. Los Angeles claimed Quincey on waivers from the Detroit Red Wings at the beginning of this season. Quincey has become the Kings top defenceman when given a chance to play. He has only 4 less points than Dustin Brown and a better +/- rating, while he plays defence and Brown forward. It is clear that Quincey is having a better season than Brown, but Brown is more marketable, given how unknown Kyle Quincey is.
I selected Brian Rafalski the NHL selected Nicklas Lidstrom as a defenceman. This choice was not forced to be a Detroit Red Wing choice as Pavel Datsyuk is also in the game. I selected Rafalski because among the three defencemen who are essentially tied for top scorer in the NHL (himself, Dan Boyle and Mark Streit) he is the most defensively responsible and thus most complete of the top offensive defencemen this season. Lidstrom started slowly, due to a broken nose, but is now only three points behind Rafalski and has a better +/- rating. I think it is more likely that Lidstrom makes a run for the Norris Trophy in the latter half of the season than Rafalski, as he is the better player. It has essentially been a pick em between the two to name the best Detroit defenceman so far this year. Lidstrom is clearly a more marketable name than Rafalski, so he is naturally the NHL choice.
I selected Patrick Marleau the NHL selected Dan Boyle as a free selection. Both of these players are San Jose Sharks and neither is the lone representative from their team. Joe Thornton is also an All Star from the Sharks. Both are worthy All Stars. It is a function of which position was left available that determined which one made the team. Essentially the NHL’s decision to pick Dustin Brown over Kyle Quincey from the Los Angeles Kings move the open roster spot from forward to defence and Boyle was selected instead of Marleau.
In the end does it matter who makes the All Star Game? Not particularly. It will be a high scoring game with little checking that is held as a media spectacle and schmooze-fest for the NHL’s sponsors. It doesn’t matter which players are in the game. That reality cannot be changed.
I would like to see the most worthy players (based on achievements so far this season) used to define rosters because I expect that there will be an argument years down the road that Rick Nash or Keith Tkachuk or some other borderline All Star selected for marketability should go to the Hall of Fame in part because of the number of All Star Games he played in (when his deserved number was lower) and that counter-argument will be made that a Brian Rafalski or a Patrick Marleau was not so great because he didn’t make the All Star Game (which he deserved to make). There are few unambiguous measuring sticks of NHL player quality. The number of career All Star Games selected to is often used as one, but as we see since many selections are because of marketability and not playing success, it is often a poor measurement of which player is better.
I think my All Star rosters have players who have played better than the NHL’s rosters so far this year and the NHL’s roster is more marketable and has better name recognition. That roster selection may (marginally) better suit the NHL’s bottom line financially, but it makes the All Star Game a reward for being a big name and not for playing well. Does anyone imagine Mike Modano belongs in the game this year on merit? I could not make such a case for him.
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