Each and every year, the National Hockey League and its fans decide who will represent the league’s 30 teams at the All-Star Game. This year, the revamped weekend features the traditional All-Star Game along with a skills competition, with a pool of rookies (competing only in the skills competition) and a pool of All-Stars, with 29 of 30 teams represented between the two bodies.
The one team left out? The Calgary Flames.
When the balance of All-Stars were announced by the league on January 11th, Flames captain Jarome Iginla was named to the game. Given his stature in the league and his status as the Flames leading scorer (and 15th in league scoring at the All-Star Break), Iginla being named to the team wasn’t much of a surprise.
Unfortunately (for Iginla and Flames fans), an illness in Jarome Iginla’s family meant that he would rather have his family together during the All-Star Break than be in Raleigh for the weekend. The league, given the completely understandable circumstances of Iginla’s request, granted his request to be excused. The Flames announced Iginla’s withdrawal from the festivities on January 19th. This left the Flames without representation at the game, pending a replacement.
So why didn’t the NHL replace Iginla with another Flame. Or, failing that, fit in a Flame blueliner or goalie?
It’s pretty simple. There were none good enough.
Potential forwards vs. Flames forwards
Selected forwards (in scoring) not already in game:
- 7th – Red Wings F Henrik Zetterberg: 53 points (in 49 games)
- 16th – Flyers F Mike Richards: 47 points (in 50 games)
- 18th – Capitals F Nicklas Backstrom: 46 points (in 51 games)
- 19th – Stars F Mike Ribeiro: 46 points (in 50 games)
- 20th – Flyers F Daniel Briere: 45 points (in 47 games) – named as Iginla’s replacement
- 22nd – Ducks F Teemu Selanne: 45 points (in 43 games)
- 24th – Wild F Martin Havlat: 44 points (in 49 games) – named as Ales Hemsky’s replacement
- 28th – Avalanche F Paul Statsny: 43 points (in 48 games) – named as Sidney Crosby’s replacement
- 32nd – Hurricanes F Jeff Skinner: 40 points (in 50 games) – named as Evgeni Malkin’s replacement
- 53rd: FLAMES F ALEX TANGUAY – 37 points (in 51 games)
Overall, four forwards (including Iginla) withdrew from the All-Star Game. Flames winger Alex Tanguay is lower in scoring than every single replacement they chose. In a game with roughly 24 forwards (and allowing for maybe a dozen to refuse due to exhaustion or injury), that still leaves roughly 20 players better suited for All-Star competition than Tanguay. No dice.
Potential defensemen vs. Flames defensemen
Selected defensemen (in scoring) not already in game:
- 1st – Coyotes D Keith Yandle: 44 points (in 51 games) – named as Tobias Enstrom’s replacement
- 2nd – Ducks D Lubomir Vishnovsky: 43 points (in 51 games)
- 7th – Avalanche D John-Michael Liles: 35 points (in 50 games)
- 8th – Canadiens D James Wisniewski: 33 points (in 45 games)
- 29th – FLAMES D MARK GIORDANO: 25 points (in 51 games)
One blueliner withdrew. The league’s highest-scoring defenseman wasn’t originally selected. Nor was the next highest-scoring defenseman. Mark Giordano is the league’s 29th best defenseman in scoring. If they had three All-Star games, he might creep in.
Potential goalies vs. Flames goalies
Selected goalies (in wins) not already in game:
- 4th – Red Wings G Jimmy Howard: 24-8-3, 2.81 goals against average, .906 save percentage
- 6th – Canucks G Roberto Luongo: 23-8-7, 2.27 GAA, .924 S%
- 7th – Kings G Jonathan Quick: 22-14-1, 2.15 GAA, .920 S%
- 13th – FLAMES G MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF: 20-18-2, 2.75 GAA, .901 S%
Well, none of the goalies named or voted into the All-Star Game had to withdraw. Secondly, neither goalie posted numbers worth writing home about. Kiprusoff ranks 14th in wins, 30th in goals against average and 32nd in save percentage. There are easily two dozen netminders ahead of him.
What about rookies?
The Flames have two first-year players on the team. Centre Mikael Backlund is 22nd in rookie scoring (and even spent time in the AHL). The Flames back-up goalie, Henrik Karlsson, is 4-3-4. That would put him 8th in wins amongst rookie goalies, had he not been disqualified from Calder contention under the Sergei Makarov Rule (“You’re too old!“).
The Flames are the only team with nobody at the All-Star Weekend. So, what? There’s nothing at stake and with the Flames suddenly on a roll, maybe it’s better than the team’s key players have the week off to recover.
More importantly, there were better options for replacement players in every instance.