2012 NHL All-Star Game: Who Will and Should Start from the Eastern Conference
Like any other sport, every NHL All-Star Game has undeserving participants.
Usually, they are players making it on reputation. In the NHL, they might be those who play for the host team.
But just because a starter is aging or a member of the host team does not mean they are unworthy...
And nothing is worse than someone telling you a player does not belong and being unable to provide a compelling alternative.
Thus, I will go through the three forwards, two defencemen and one goalie most likely to represent their conferences in the All-Star Game while examining which belong and which do not.
Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson has 950,000 votes as of midday January 6. That is over 50,000 more than the next highest skater and almost 350,000 more than the third-highest defenceman in the Eastern Conference.
That makes him the single most certain All-Star starter.
The good news is Karlsson belongs.
No player on the blue line has more points than Karlsson (32) and he is plus-one over 41 games. He is one of the reasons that Ottawa is contending almost as much for a top-four seed as they are just to make the playoffs.
At the same time, he is not getting fat off an elite team.
He should not be the top vote-getter and it is debatable whether he should start—Zdeno Chara is still the best defenceman with shot-blocking, hitting, 25 points and a plus-25 in 35 games—but having him out there over someone else does not rate an injustice.
Daniel Alfredsson is the Ottawa Senators.
The captain has played there every full season since the one following his sixth-round selection by the team in 1994.
He is still a good player, too. But 10 goals, 21 assists and a plus-two rating hardly makes him All-Star worthy, let alone as a starter. He is 49th in scoring, and even if defence was played and valued for this game (as it should be), his solid defence would not elevate his 49th-ranked scoring to be worthy of even an alternate.
Claude Giroux should be the first forward selected.
The Philadelphia Flyers star leads the league in scoring with 18 goals and 30 assists in just 34 games. He is also one of the better defensive forwards in the league, put out to get tough stops and yet ranking plus-eight.
Jason Spezza is also a lock to make the starting lineup. As one of only two forwards with over 800,000 votes, he is over 100,000 more than the fourth-most voted forward out of the Eastern Conference.
Spezza is not just a Senator, but a proven star having a solid campaign.
His 15 goals and 26 assists give him a point per game, and his minus-one rating is actually indicative of being on the ice in some defensive situations, as well.
Even more than teammate Erik Karlsson, Spezza's placement among the starting skaters is debatable. But his presence does not rate as a travesty—at the very least, he belongs on the team.
Milan Michalek is about 42,000 votes ahead of Phil Kessel (23 goals, 23 assists in 40 games) for the last starting forward spot.
We can all hope he loses that spot so two of the starting three are worthy.
Michalek is a very good player, but this game is supposed to be for the best.
His 19 goals, seven assists and minus-five in 36 games are arguably not first-line worthy, much less All-Star worthy.
Tim Thomas has nearly 130,000 more votes than any other goalie. There is good reason for that.
Do not tell me about how much less his team relies on him than any other contender.
I know Tuukka Rask has played in 14 games and has a better save percentage and goals against average. I know the Bruins have a great defensive team that can also score, making the goalie's job easier.
But Thomas tends to draw the toughest assignments and is 17-6-0 with a .940 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average. If you could have any one guy in net for a must-win game, Thomas is that man. His numbers are better than anyone who has played more than Rask's 14 games.
That is why the Bruins are smart to have a great backup and use him often.
Thomas will be rested and ready for their defense of the Stanley Cup come this spring.
After being included on every list of the most overrated players in the league last season, Dion Phaneuf has shown how ridiculous the knee jerk reaction of the typical fan is.
Phaneuf is precariously holding on to the second starting spot on the blue line, just 12,000 votes ahead of hometown ace Sergei Gonchar. But ballot-stuffing is giving away to fans from other places in the country casting votes.
As known as Gonchar is, he will not cause Phaneuf to be overlooked when he Phaneuf is not just a physical presence, but has 27 points and a plus-two rating in 40 games.
Brian Campbell may be a more worthy starter (32 points, plus-four in 40 games for resurgent Florida Panthers), but Phaneuf deserves strong consideration.