Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
From adding events to the Superskills Competition to making the All-Star Game itself into a North America vs. the World event, the NHL has continuously tried to make its mid-season exhibition more relevant.
Even with all of these changes having taken place, no set of tweaks has more fundamentally changed the game than what the league is attempting to do this season. After fan balloting offered up six guaranteed starters, the league will decide on 36 more participants to play in the game. After naming captains and two alternate captains for each squad, the players will then draft their teams in a fantasy draft-style format.
All in all, they will end up with 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 3 goalies apiece. With three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie already sewn up for the game, that leaves room for 21 more forwards, 10 more defensemen, and five more goalies. Whose names will be revealed next Tuesday by the league for inclusion in the game?
Here are 36 of the best guesses, and to spice things up a bit, we asked people who cover these teams on a regular basis to give their reasoning as to why the players named should be All-Stars. This list includes writers from all over the web, and even some from right here at The Hockey Writers.
Author’s Note: The NHL will have all 30 teams represented in Raleigh in the SuperSkills Competition and the All-Star Game. While no Edmonton Oilers made this list, it is the assumption of the author that Taylor Hall and/or Jordan Eberle will be one of 12 rookies invited to All-Star weekend.
Without further adieu, here are your All-Prediction All-Stars:
David Backes, St. Louis Blues: “Backes has no problem throwing his weight around. Those hits are often returned in kind, and yet he harmoniously continues to tick. All the while, he leads the Blues in points and is 2nd on the team in goals. He is also one of only eight Blues to play every game this season.” – Susan Crosby, Blues Reporter for The Fourth Period Magazine
Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers: “Briere is having by far his best year since joining the Flyers in 2007-08. Moving back to center permanently has helped him immensely, especially in his own zone (he’s a +15 this season). His line is also the only Flyers line that hasn’t been split up since last year’s playoffs.” – Justin Johnson, THW’s Flyers Correspondent
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: “Datsyuk has only played 33 games due to a wrist/hand injury this year, but still has 39 points and his first Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Even though that probably takes him out of the Byng discussion, he’s still a front-runner for the Selke, as evidenced by his 47 takeaways.” –Monica McAlister, THW’s Red Wings Correspondent
Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers: “Dubinsky embodies every aspect that a hockey player should have. He plays the game the way its supposed to be played. He never takes a shift off, and puts in work in all three areas of the ice. This has been Dubinsky’s most complete year to date.” – Frank Castaldi, THW’s Rangers Correspondent
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: “Duchene has a Sakic-esque snap shot that always seems to surprise goalies and sneak through their legs. He’s very talented and likes to be creative with the puck to get open and find passing lanes for his teammates. I would definitely say that Dutchy is the future of this organization.” – Mike Verminski, THW’s Avalanche Correspondent and Author of Put it On Ice
Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils: “He’s been the best player on the worst team in the league. His 26 points lead the team, as do his 18 assists. He only has eight goals, but that’s still third best on a bad offensive team. He would be the only logical choice to represent the Devils in Raleigh.” – Carlos Figueiredo, Author of Speaking of the Devils
Dany Heatley, San Jose Sharks: The All-Star representative from San Jose could very well be any of their talented forwards, Heatley has a really great case. He can move the puck, is a premiere scorer in this league, and he can play both wings with ease. He is a tremendously lethal offensive weapon.
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames: “Don’t say within earshot of “Big Tree” that he has entered the downside of his career: he is averaging a point or better in his last 26 games. He is a gentleman off the ice and a true gladiator on it. He’s the embodiment of what a team captain should be. “ – Christopher Ralph, THW Prospect/Draft Expert
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: “Kopitar leads the team in scoring and is leading the Kings in ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet as well. He is an assistant captain, and in that capacity is becoming more of a vocal leader as well, even though he has a soft-spoken demeanor.” – Gann Matsuda, THW’s Kings Correspondent & Author of Frozen Royalty
Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets: “He’s a four-time NHL All Star, not to mention the 2009 NHL Foundation Player Award winner. In the 03/04 season he won the Rocket Richard Trophy. Beyond that, Rick Nash is an amazing playmaker/scorer when he’s on the ice. He’s the face of the Blue Jackets franchise.” – Rick Gethin, THW’s Blue Jackets Correspondent
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: “Ovechkin may not be putting up his usual goal totals, but he remains ninth in overall points and will likely reach a career high in assists, showing his set-up skills; so much for being selfish. Ovechkin is also extremely entertaining and will certainly be great for the cameras.” – Angie Lewis, Author of All We Do Is Puck and THW’s Capitals Correspondent
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: Perry is establishing himself as an elite player in this league. He can score, distribute the puck, play physical and responsible defense, and he can be used in all situations. He may commit a ton of penalties, but he makes up for that in all other facets of the game.
Brad Richards, Dallas Stars: “Richards is in his third full season with the Stars, and is coming off a year where he matched his career high in points. This year, he has 18 goals and 47 points through 41 games. Richards also has a plus-rating for the first time since Tampa’s Cup-winning 2003-04 season.” – Angie Lewis
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: “Second to Stamkos on the Lightning and third in the league in scoring is Martin St. Louis with 51 points. In his 11th NHL season, this late bloomer has developed into a star player and leader on his team while still helping Tampa toward a potential Southeast Division championship.” – Angie Lewis
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: “Often seen as a package deal, Vancouver’s Sedin twins have found themselves in a unique situation this year. Henrik has gotten more acclaim, including the twins’ lone All-Star nod, but Daniel is every bit as important to the Canucks. He deserves his due playing among the NHL’s best in Raleigh.” – Cam Charron, THW’s Canucks Correspondent
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks: Hockey is often focused on who took the shot, but most goals come from buildup play, and Henrik Sedin is a master of that. The reigning Hart Trophy winner leads the league with 41 assists and has proven a great leader for the Canucks. He deserves an All-Star selection.” – Andrew Bucholtz, Editor of Yahoo’s CFL blog 55-Yard Line
Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: The NHL Brass loves goals. Fans love goals. Sharp gives people what they want. He’s third in the league in goals, and that’s no statistical fluke. He is also second in shots behind Ovechkin. I don’t see any way the NHL could keep him out of the ASG. – Andrew Bernier, Editor of Blackhawks Down Low
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: “Staal should be in the game because he is one of the top performers in the NHL. His 19 goals place him 8th in the league, and he’s 4th among forwards with an ATOI of 21:44. He leads the Canes in almost all scoring categories, and he’s also team captain. He does it all.” – Bob Wager, Author of Canes Country
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: “There’s not too much of an argument here: second in the league in goals and points, Stamkos is a no-brainer for the game. His numbers aren’t in vain either; he leads the league in game-winning goals and PP goals, which has helped the Lightning to a fifth place PP efficiency.” – Angie Lewis
John Tavares, New York Islanders: “Tavares has been one of few bright spots for a team that has dwelled at the bottom of the standings. He leads the Isles in scoring and continues to do so without a solid veteran presence in the lineup. John has improved his game with his work ethic and continues to look better every night.” – Rob McGowan, THW’s Islanders Correspondent
Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: “It’s not easy picking an all-star from these Sabres, but if you must, it has to be Vanek. Again among the league leaders with 8 PPG, Vanek’s hands, from the slot to the crease, make him a dangerous weapon for any PP, even one as bad as Buffalo’s. “ – Marty Vance, Author of Bangin Panger
Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild: “With 37 games under his belt this season Burns has notched 26 points. He leads the offensive deficient Minnesota Wild with 12 goals – that also puts him second in the NHL for goals scored by a defenseman.” - Monica McAlister
Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers: “It’d be a shocker if Byfuglien isn’t picked for the game. He’s leading the league’s defensemen in goals (16), is fifth in assists (25), and leads defensemen in points. If Duncan Keith’s numbers are good enough for him to start, then there’s no way Byfuglien doesn’t get picked.” – Laura Astorian, Author of Thrashing the Blues
Matt Carle, Philadelphia Flyers: “Carle has had to pick up more ice time with Chris Pronger’s foot injury, and he has excelled while doing so. While not overly physical, coach Peter Laviolette is very pleased with his focus and stick work going up against mainly the opposing team’s top forwards.” – Justin Johnson
Tobias Enstrom, Atlanta Thrashers: “Enstrom does everything: he’s fast, has an accurate, deceptive shot, makes 100 foot tape-to-tape passes look easy, and he’s impossible to skate around or fake out. While me may seem too small, he’s proven incredibly durable, never missing a single game since his debut while playing huge minutes.” – Tim Fabiniak, Author of Bird-Watchers Anonymous
Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs: Even as the subject of a huge amount of trade speculation, and playing in the attention cauldron that Toronto is, Kaberle has flourished this season. He is a great puck mover with 23 assists, with 14 of those coming on the power play. He’s truly an elite offensive talent.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: “Karlsson has emerged as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable year in Ottawa. Opposition coaches are taking notice of his skills in the offensive zone; his natural playmaking ability and smooth skating help him overcome defensive miscues. This could be the first of many All-Star appearances.” – Andrew Rodger, THW’s Senators Correspondent and Author of “The Voice of Sport”
Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings: “What is there to say about Lidstrom that hasn’t already been said? At age 40, he is having one of the best starts of his career, and he’s won six Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups, and played in ten All-Star Games. He knows the game better than anyone else.” – Monica McAlister
Jon-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche: “After trade rumors surrounded Liles during last year’s deadline he responded this season by racking up 11 points in the first 9 games of the season. He’s also been solid defensively as he routinely plays 20+ minutes every game. He’s proven a lot of skeptics wrong this season.“ – Mike Verminski
Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators: “While numbers don’t always tell the whole story, the fact that Suter missed 11 games and still leads the team in +/- speaks volumes. In a league marked by anointed boy kings and bratty brilliance, Suter displays dignity and a stoic focus on just being good at what he does.” – Jas Faulkner, THW’s Predators Correspondent
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes: “Keith is one of the best young defensemen in the league. He’s a leader on the power play and in the locker room. He currently ranks sixth among defensemen with 30 points on an offensively challenged team. This year should be the first of many All-Star Games for him.” – Travis Hair, Lead Editor of Five For Howling
Jimmy Howard, Detroit: “Ever wonder why the Red Wings are hated? Maybe it’s because their fans can consider a goalie who leads the league in wins as someone who is slumping. Howard is following up his Calder runner-up season with a 20-7-3 record and has only allowed 80 goals. He certainly has my vote.” –Monica McAlister
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: There probably wasn’t any player in the entire league who came into the season facing more scrutiny than Price did. In replacing Jaroslav Halak, he has shown grit and determination in spades, and is right in the thick of the Vezina race, and should definitely be an All-Star.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: “Quick has established himself, not just as the Kings’ number one netminder, but one of the top goaltenders in the NHL this season, ranking among the best in GAA, wins, and save percentage. His competitive nature and solid play seems to inspire the skaters in front of him.” – Gann Matsuda
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: “Forget that he leads the league in GAA and save percentage. The 36-year old has fought back against naysayers and has become an elite goaltender again. The B’s are where they are due in large part to his performance. If that isn’t All-Star caliber, I don’t know what is.” – Mike Miccoli, THW’s Bruins Correspondent
Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers: “Vokoun is one of the best kept secrets in the NHL. Typically he’ll have to stop between 35-40 shots per night. With five shutouts so far and a .924 save percentage, Vokoun has consistently shown why he is one of the top goaltenders in the game today.” – Frank Rekas, Author of The Rat Trick