There is a fine for players who choose not to go to the All-Star Game. There are also a lot of snubs in a system that selects one player from every team, deserving or not.
That leaves us with wonky All-Star rosters that don’t necessarily reflect the best talent in the league, or who is having the best season.
Take for example, Nazem Kadri. The Avalanche forward entered the weekend with the fifth-most points in the NHL. He is on the ballot for “Last Man In” but wasn’t one of the main roster choices.
Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon had a lot to say about that.
“It’s silly,” MacKinnon said to reporters earlier this week. “It’s silly. I don’t think every team should send a guy. I think it’s a silly rule that we have. It’s an All-Star Game; it’s not a participation game. Naz is (fifth) in scoring in the NHL, and he’s got to get voted in still. So, I don’t think that’s right.”
Then there is Brad Marchand in Boston, seventh in the league in scoring and one of the more recognizable faces in the NHL.
Of course, popularity isn’t the top concern, especially if a historically good player is having a bad season. But given this is the NHL’s marquee midseason event, one would think they’d want to showcase some of the more popular, talented players.
Trevor Zegras also missed the game with Ducks goalie John Gibson getting the nod and Troy Terry being the Last Man In candidate. Zegras had likely the most-viewed play this season, when he lobbed the puck from behind the net to Sonny Milano for a goal. Now, hockey fans won’t see him on what’s supposed to be the most-fun stage.
If the league were to eliminate taking a player from every team, some fan bases might be lost entirely. In the Kraken’s first season, Jordan Eberle was the lone All-Star. With 24 points entering the weekend, he led the Kraken but was 107th in the league. It’s likely his entry wouldn’t happen if not for that rule.
Then Kraken fans may be a non-factor for viewership in the franchise’s first season, and the first time the event is on ESPN.
It’s not like the All-Star Game carries much weight beyond an exhibition; this isn’t the mid-2000s MLB when the winner between the American and National leagues determined home-field advantage in the World Series. It’s supposed to be fun.
Some of the fun can be speculating and debating snubs as well. It’s never going to be perfect. But the objective should be to be enjoyable, and max participation for all fan bases is a part of it, and so is showcasing the best players.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean a ton,” MacKinnon said. “It’s an All-Star Game. It’s for fun. It obviously gets hyped up and things like that. But yeah, I mean, we should have five, six guys going from our team.”
Fanning trade-market flames
The NHL trade deadline is March 21. We’re beginning to have at least a clue of what the playoff picture could look like.
The East seems all but secured, unless the Islanders go on a miracle run or the Bruins flop late or something else unrealistic happens. The West is more interesting; the Canucks propelled their way into the conversation, the Flames and Oilers slumped hard, and the Predators are suddenly unstoppable.
There are already a few likely trade possibilities; Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk and Stars defenseman John Klingberg asked for trades. Kraken defenseman Mark Giordano is a probability. Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun is likely to bring a big return for a team that was out of contention by November.
There are still a couple of months before the deadline, but with the league somewhat stabilized following the omicron surge, some questions should get answered soon.
Panthers on a roll
The Panthers have been a dark-horse pick to make a deep run the past couple of years but have been stalled by the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Their Florida foe could thwart them again this year; or any of the other strong Atlantic clubs, like Boston or Toronto. But right now at least, the Panthers look scary.
Jonathan Huberdeau is fourth in the league in scoring, they have seven players in double-digits, and Aleksander Barkov is tied for the team lead with 15 goals in just 24 games. It’s a team everyone in the league should be worried about.