Let me start by saying the title of this article is perhaps more snarky than it needs to be. Given this year’s NHL All-Star Weekend format – scheduled for Feb. 4-5 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas – almost every team has deserving players left off the roster. (When I say “almost,” I’m looking at you, Arizona.) And maybe that’s where the problem starts.
Issues with the All-Star Weekend Format
Each of the four divisions will field an All-Star team consisting of 11 players — nine skaters and two goalies. The NHL Hockey Operations Department selected ten players for each division; the 11th man on each team – the “Last Man In” – will be voted in by fans. And each team in the division was required to send at least one player.
The limited size means there were only three at-large spots on each of the divisional teams (one player from each of the eight teams in the division, plus two more selected by the league, with the final spot voted in by fans.) The league could have countered this by going with a deeper bench — 12 skates plus two goalies — or the tournament could be played 4-vs-4 with a larger roster overall.
All major sports leagues tinker with their All-Star Game formats on a nearly annual basis, and I hope the NHL will make changes for the 2023 game – to be held at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, home of the Panthers – and create larger rosters.
But that’s for next year. Let’s focus on this year.
In case you missed it, this is the Central Division All-Star Team, as announced today:
|Clayton Keller||Arizona Coyotes||F|
|Alex DeBrincat||Chicago Blackhawks||F|
|Nathan MacKinnon*||Colorado Avalanche||F|
|Cale Makar||Colorado Avalanche||D|
|Joe Pavelski||Dallas Stars||F|
|Kirill Kaprizov||Minnesota Wild||F|
|Cam Talbot||Minnesota Wild||G|
|Juuse Saros||Nashville Predators||G|
|Jordan Kyrou||St. Louis Blues||F|
|Kyle Connor||Winnipeg Jets||F|
|LAST MAN||FAN VOTE|
With Nathan MacKinnon voted in as captain and Cale Makar a lock on defense, the league would be hard-pressed to select a third member of the Avalanche for the All-Star Game. I get it. There are politics involved, and there are a lot of deserving players. But Colorado has skaters who should, by any objective measure, be heading to Las Vegas. Here are the three biggest snubs, in reverse order.
3. Mikko Rantanen
Mikko Rantanen’s 40 points are good enough for eighth-best in the NHL and second-best in the Central Division. (A word on the Central Division’s points leader below.) His 1.33 points per game are fourth-best in the division, trailing only three other players, all of them Avalanche teammates.
Rantanen’s plus-minus of plus-16 trails only five Central Division skaters, two of whom are also on the Avalanche. And his seven power-play goals tie him for fifth in the league.
Rantanen is putting up these numbers while having played only 30 games, while most of the other league leaders have played 33 or more. And this isn’t a fluke. Last season, Rantanen’s 66 points were sixth overall and second in the division, trailing only Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. His plus-30 led the entire league. In other words, this guy is the real deal and a deserving All-Star.
Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Wayne Gretzkey had Mark Messier. And Cale Makar has Devon Toews. There is no doubt Makar belongs on the All-Star roster; his stat line – 16 goals and 18 assists in 29 games (good for a league-leading 1.17 points per game among defensemen), with a plus-16 and four game-winning-goals – is unrivaled.
But the numbers for Toews are just as impressive. His 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) is 15th in the league among defensemen, but he’s done that in only 22 games. His points per game average of 1.09 is second best for blueliners, trailing only Makar. (Ryan Ellis of the Philadelphia Flyers technically has a higher points-per-game average, but he’s only played in four games.) Toews is tied with Ryan Hartman of the Minnesota Wild to lead all skaters with a plus-26.
Part of the challenge for Toews is that Makar was the only defensive player selected for the Central Division team, meaning that other stand-out defenders like Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, and Seth Jones of the Chicago Blackhawks, are also staying home, though both of those players are on the Last Men ballot; Toews is not.
The Avalanche are 22-8-3 on the season with a .712 winning percentage. When Toews has been in the lineup, they’re 17-3-2, which equals a .818 winning percentage. Bottom line: He’s a stud, and with a different all-star format, would merit serious consideration.
1. Nazem Kadri
Really, the All-Star format is just too restrictive to have included either Toews or Rantanen. The snub of Nazem Kadri, however, is just not excusable. He has been the best player in the Central Division the entire season and shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s how he stacks up against the seven forwards selected for the Central Division Team:
Kadri’s leads in points, assists, P/GP, and plus-minus. His problem is, in part, MacKinnon. If MacKinnon hadn’t been voted the captain by fans, Kadri might have been selected. But even with MacKinnon going, the selection committee should have given Kadri the honor. He, more than anyone, has earned it.
All hope, however, is not lost for Kadri, as he’s Colorado’s entry on the Last Men ballot. Voting closes Monday (January 17) at midnight.
One bit of good news has allowed the Avalanche to have a 12th man. Colorado’s Jared Bednar has been named to coach his first all-star team.
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Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.