Not surprisingly, the NHL All-Star Fan Balloting turned into a popularity contest. With the Ottawa Senators hosting this year’s All-Star game, the hometown team’s fans wanted to see their own players on the ice, and they showed it in voting. Of the six available spots, four went to Ottawa Senators. All three forwards chosen by the fans were Senators with Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Milan Michalek receiving the spots. Erik Karlsson of the Senators was one of two defenseman chosen by the fans with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Dion Phaneuf being the other. Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins was the goalie chosen by the fans.
Last year, with the All-Star game hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, the story was not the same as no Hurricanes were voted in by fans. Thus, Senators fans should be commended for their work, and in all honesty, the fans have picked All-Star quality players outside of Daniel Alfredsson, who is probably in based on name recognition. The next step in the process is for NHL Hockey Operations to pick 36 players. Then, a captain will be picked for each team and that captain will draft his team. This format was used for the first time last year, and it is a fresh twist to the way things have always been done by the four major sports leagues.
Before the NHL releases the list of players for the All-Star game, let’s take a look at players from the Florida Panthers that should and also may make the rosters for the game.
Brian Campbell should be a lock for the All-Star game. Arguably, if Campbell played for a better-followed team in a traditional hockey market, he would have been voted in. Campbell trails only Karlsson in points and assists by a defenseman as he has 33 and 30, respectively. Among defenseman, Campbell is also ranked fourth in time on ice. The Panthers’ power play is perhaps where Campbell has made his biggest impact. Last year’s dismal power play unit is now the 10th best in the league with a conversion rate of 18.8%, and Campbell leads all NHL defenseman in points on the power play with 19. Of those 19, 18 come from assists, and Campbell is the leader in that category. Finally, Campbell carries the earned perception as having turned around this Panthers team. He is an anchor on defense and the power play, and the NHL would do well to include him in order to reward his stellar play and bring positive attention to the resurgent Panthers.
Kris Versteeg should also be a lock for the All-Star game. Versteeg leads the Panthers in points and goals with 38 and 17, respectively. He also is third on the team in assists with 21. As important as Campbell has been on defense for the Panthers, Versteeg has been equally as important on offense. The Panthers struggled with offensive production in the past two years because of poor play by David Booth, and Versteeg has been the scorer that the team has been looking for as he is putting together a career year. In 40 games, he sits 15 points, 5 goals, and 10 assists away from his career highs in those statistical categories. Versteeg also carries a plus 12, which is second highest on the team. As well, he has been a major contributor on the power play with five goals, which is second on the team behind hard-shooting, defenseman Jason Garrison. Just like Campbell, Versteeg has turned around the Panthers and is absolutely a major reason for their current place atop the Southeast Division.
If any other Panther is going to make the game, it will most likely be Stephen Weiss because of his positive perception around the league. Weiss has always been a steady contributor for the Panthers, and with the team finally in the hunt for the playoffs, he has not disappointed. He is not atop the NHL in points for forwards as he has 33 and is ranked 41st, but he is having a solid season for a first place team. He has also been an all-around strong player. Along with 11 goals and 22 assists, he leads the Panthers with a plus 14. He is also in the top 20 forwards in the NHL in time on ice. Weiss will make the team if the NHL decides that it would be nice to reward a strong player on a surprise team that is trying to build a stronger presence in a weak hockey market.