NHL All-Star Game rules force tough omissions on rosters
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Hockey Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The NHL All-Star Game’s 3-on-3, four-team tournament format put an intriguing spin on a staid exercise when it was introduced last season.
The format also essentially guaranteed a few glaring snubs when the All-Star teams are chosen.
All four teams must have six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies apiece from each NHL division, and every franchise in the league must be represented at least once. Those restrictions essentially guarantee an elite forward or defenseman in each division will be a victim of the numbers game.
Especially when veteran stars such as Jonathan Toews can’t figure out why they’re going.
In perhaps the most curious choice in Tuesday’s selections, Toews was chosen over teammates Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov, who have all outscored the Blackhawks’ captain this season. Sure, Toews is one of the NHL’s elite centers, but he scored only 20 points in 34 games.
“Most of the time, I guess I’d say it’s an honor,” Toews told reporters in Chicago. “This time, it’s a little bittersweet, I think. I’ve just got to completely admit that there’s a handful of guys on this team that are definitely more deserving, especially this year. … Why I got picked ahead of those guys, based on performance, I’m not sure.”
Panarin is a particularly baffling omission: The rising Russian star known as the Bread Man had a whopping 41 points in 43 games, ranking sixth in the NHL scoring race. Even defenseman Brent Seabrook, who wasn’t among Chicago’s NHL-high four All-Stars, has outscored Toews this year.
Perhaps Toews was invited because of an ulterior motive: The NHL will unveil its choice of the top 100 players in league history on Jan. 27 in Los Angeles, two days before the All-Star Game at Staples Center. Toews, the three-time Stanley Cup champion and the youngest player to make the Triple Gold Club, could be a part of those festivities.
The rest of the All-Star rosters are an appropriate mix of talented veterans and young stars from the first half of a surprising season in which 19-year-old Connor McDavid is the NHL scoring leader, several Canadian teams are in playoff contention after the Great White North was shut out in 2016 and the overall NHL standings are topped by the Columbus Blue Jackets — a franchise with zero playoff series victories in its first 15 NHL seasons.
But the All-Star snubs are numerous, too.
How about Columbus’ Cam Atkinson, who began Tuesday in a tie for eighth in the NHL scoring race with 39 points? He has scored plenty of big goals during the Blue Jackets’ impressive rise, but wasn’t invited to join defenseman Seth Jones and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
“With Jonesey and with Bob, it’s well-deserved,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “There’s a few other guys there that probably had a couple looks. You look at Cam and some of the things he’s done. But to get a couple guys on the team, it’s great.”
Or how about Montreal’s Max Pacioretty (34 points) and Alexander Radulov (31 points), the Canadiens’ top two scorers during their outstanding season? They were beaten out in the Atlantic Division by Detroit’s Frans Nielsen (22 points), Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo (27 points) and Florida’s Vincent Trocheck (24 points), the only representatives from their three respective teams.
Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot has already won 20 games for the surging Oilers, but was beaten out by San Jose’s Martin Jones and Arizona’s Mike Smith.
Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, Boston’s David Pastrnak, Minnesota’s Eric Staal, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel, Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek and Columbus rookie Zach Werenski also made strong cases in the first half of the season — and they’re still not entirely out of the picture.
Injuries sometimes factor into the NHL’s initial All-Star decisions, with teams quietly letting the league know when players have a nagging issue that could endanger their All-Star availability. Additional injury dropouts in the ensuing two weeks could allow the NHL to make up some of the omissions.
The Washington Capitals have won six straight, keeping pace in the brutal Metropolitan Division. Alex Ovechkin’s next point will be his 1,000th in the NHL after a three-point performance to beat Montreal on Monday.
A four-game skid dropped Tampa Bay into sixth place in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning allowed a whopping 22 goals during the losing streak. Goalie Ben Bishop has been sidelined for three weeks with a lower-body injury, but should return soon.
GAME(S) OF THE WEEK
Pittsburgh vs. Washington. The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and Ovechkin’s powerful Capitals meet twice in six days, playing in Washington on Wednesday night and in Pittsburgh on Monday, Jan. 16. The rivals are both on lengthy winning streaks as they begin the week in a three-way tie with the Rangers for second place behind NHL-leading Columbus in the Metropolitan.
Points: Connor McDavid, Edmonton, 48; Goals: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh, 26; Plus-Minus: Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh, plus-24; Ice Time: Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg, 27:20; Goals-Against Average: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota, 1.80; Save Percentage: Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota, .939.
Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh contributed to this report.
Follow Hockey Writer Greg Beacham at http://www.twitter.com/gregbeacham