Florida Panthers rookie Aaron Ekblad replacing the injured Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche on Friday best sums up the joke that is the NHL All-Star Game.
Ekblad, who was first justifiably selected as a rookie to compete in the All-Stars Competition, has a very good but relatively unimpressive 25 points this season. Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who won the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2013, remains unselected and has 31.
Meanwhile, Johnson? He has less than either with 23, playing for the struggling Avs this season. And yet he was the one named to the event by the league.
Anatomy of an All-Star
Granted, points aren’t everything. However, if we’re operating under the premise that Johnson is Colorado’s best defenseman (like Ekblad is arguably Florida’s), what does it say about the league’s competence level and its selection, looking at the standings and stats that reveal Florida owns a better record than Colorado and has given up nearly four fewer shots per game?
Now, Subban on the other hand arguably doesn’t deserve to be an all-star in his own right, at least not this season. Ottawa Senator Erik Karlsson, Washington Capital John Carlson, and Philadelphia Flyer Mark Streit each have more points than him and were not selected either.
For an annual event built on offense (and lacking anything even resembling defense), one has to believe either of those three merited being selected ahead of the Habs defenseman. Karlsson is even a recent Norris winner himself (2012).
Ekblad Makes History
All these potential replacements and the league opted for Ekblad, making him the youngest defenseman to ever be named to the event in the process.
Of course, “opted,” is in reality much closer to “settled.” With it being so close to the event when Johnson and Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby disclosed their injuries, the league was probably forced into full-scramble mode in a desperate attempt to avoid egg on its face. It has failed. And badly.
With every other NHLer not participating in the game probably on vacation right about now, it’s not as if there was any other alternative to naming Ekblad to the game. And, despite rumors that Johnny Gaudreau would be replacing Crosby, it has been confirmed that the game will be played short one man (and Gaudreau will only compete in the skills competition, as was originally planned).
The Other Guys
Nashville Predator Filip Forsberg, another rookie initially permitted to just attend the festivities and participate in the All-Star Skills Competition, was promoted to the game after Evgeni Malkin called in sick.
Forsberg, with 40 points already this season as the runaway Calder Memorial Trophy candidate, actually deserved to be named to the game initially. Now, the league is promoting him as if they’re doing him a favor when in reality it’s the other way around. I mean, it’s pretty much gotten to the point where, if someone utters the name “Forsberg,” “Peter” has almost become an afterthought. It’s certainly not justified, but, at this All-Star Game at least, it’s not alone.
For example, Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who owns a relatively pedestrian .913 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average, was likely only named to the game because he plays for the host team. Now injured (like most everyone else apparently), he is being replaced by St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott.
Similarly, Nashville Predator Pekka Rinne is being replaced by Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. And Detroit Red Wing Jimmy Howard is being replaced by New York Islander Jaroslav Halak.
That last substitution is a particularly interesting one. After the NHL bent over backwards to satisfy the ill-conceived notion that every team should be represented at the event, going so far as to name Edmonton Oiler Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Carolina Hurricane Justin Faulk for some reason, now the Red Wings, the team with the fifth-most points in the league, have absolutely no one. Up until Bobrovsky’s injury, the host Blue Jackets, who have the sixth-lowest point total, had three.
The injury pandemic has gotten so bad that even the reserves are dropping like flies, with Montreal Canadien Jiri Sekac selected to replace Los Angeles King Tanner Pearson. Now, only four of six predesignated “rookies” to compete purely in the skills competition remain. At this point, it might make more sense to just allow Gaudreau, Sekac, Ottawa Senator Mike Hoffman, and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning to be drafted into the main event as well. It would at least look like less of a sideshow.
No Laughing Matter
Now, obviously, some of these “injuries” are legitimate. But consider the specific case of Sekac. Sekac has just 15 points so far this season as a third-line forward for the Habs. There are currently six rookies who hadn’t been selected either with higher point totals who just as easily could have been named ahead of him.
While Sekac has been an undeniable bright spot for Montreal this season, he just does not belong anywhere near the spotlight this weekend. No one can argue that he does. And, yet, here we are, just a few injuries away from seeing him in the All-Star Game if trends are anything to go by. Is it that out of the question that between now and the game three other supposed stars mysteriously get ill or pull a hammy?
How funny would that be, that a player with 15 points ends up playing in the All-Star Game? Not so much funny “ha, ha,” of course. Funny the same way counterfeit money is, as in “fraudulent.” This game is now stinking like a cash grab, an event put on purely to make money with little to no actual entertainment value, which, sad as it may be, has arguably been the case for some time.
Sure, the NHL is a business and its goal is to pad its bottom line. However, its business is hockey. The absolute best-case scenario here is these selections were the best the league could do. If that’s the case, it’s abundantly clear it just doesn’t know hockey. That’s the real joke.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.