The All-Star Game is an exhibition for the fans that many have no interest in seeing
Like most sports, the NHL is working hard to make its All-Star Game more interesting to fans. Like most sports, its efforts have failed.
To be be fair, the NHL is at a major disadvantage. The risk of injuries for football and hockey remove the physical aspect of those games that is part of its fan appeal, including my own.
To its credit, no league has been as inventive with its game as the NHL. Earlier in the decade, they switched from the conference format to North America versus the World. This made for interesting situations with teammates being on opposite teams and allowed countrymen from rivals to team up.
Eventually, the league decided the experiment failed and went back to a conference format. Then last year, it again decided that format was not working.
Its idea was almost as inventive as the realignment proposal the NHLPA rejected: Let the captains of each team pick their players like kids in pond hockey.
Unfortunately, this did nothing to engender interest from those who want real hockey. This was evident in my piece examining the 2012 NHL All-Star Game balloting against who should play. That piece focused on those players likely to finish highest at their positions and whether they should start in the All-Star Game.
I thought the top vote-getters from each conference were the starters, and the captains taken from them. Then they in turn picked the rest of their teams.
I will take the mulligan on that.
However, if the game is for the fans, they should pick the starters. I have previously opined that I would rather have the All-Stars be the best players and for their defensive contributions to count, but since the game will not include much defence, fans like me will not watch anyway.
Finally, to compensate for there being so many more fans in the east—the top 11 vote-getters are all from the Eastern Conference and the top 34 from east of the Mississippi River—both the starters and reserves at every position should be comprised of players from the Western Conference.
Since all players in the first article were from the Eastern Conference and I now understand that no one from the Western Conference is guaranteed to start, this piece focuses on those who should start.
I consider Nicklas Lidstrom the greatest defenceman the game has ever seen. He beats out Bobby Orr because of his longevity. Would you rather draft a guy who will be the best over 10 years or one almost as good over 20?
I even took a little heat (in the nicest way I have ever taken heat) for declaring him the best captain in the history of the Detroit Red Wings. (Please, read the link to find out why, and then tell me I am wrong.)
It is my bias that places a defenceman who is only fifth in scoring and second in plus-minus on the blue line in his conference first on the team, right? Wrong.
I can admire a player as much as Lidstrom and still recognize he is not the best player in the league. As far back as 2008, I took heat for saying that Scott Neidermayer was better than Lidstrom.
In fact, Lidstrom should not have even been a finalist for the Norris Trophy last season. He was barely top 60 in minutes and finished in the minus for the first time in his career. His point totals were inflated because he plays for such an offensively gifted team.
All of that except plus-minus applies this year, too. But with 27 points and a plus-17 rating through his first 39 games, he is certainly among the top-six defencemen in the Western Conference.
Because he is its top vote-getter, he should start. Because he is also the captain of the most successful team in hockey (whether over the last four-plus seasons or the last 15), he should also be its captain.
The most important player in any sport is the hockey goalie. Nicklas Lidstrom has a darn good one right there in Detroit. Jimmy Howard leads Western Conference goalies in votes, but since he is not even top five among goalies, making him a backup is okay.
The most deserving starter is Jonathan Quick.
He has a remarkable .933 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average—both conference highs. The Kings have scored the fewest goals in the league, yet Quick has gotten them at least one point in the standings in 24 of 34 games, and two in over half his starts.
Instead of choosing his own goalie, Lidstrom would want to pick his best centre. Pavel Datsyuk is the best player in the league, period.
There are a few forwards even better than him offensively. He scored 40 points through his first 39 games, ranking 15th in the NHL.
But unlike many offensive players, he is not always used for scoring. He could win the Frank J. Selke award every year without any cries of injustice. He has a plus-13 rating while going up against the other team's best almost every shift.
Among those who have outscored Datsyuk, only Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have a better plus-minus. Yet only Claude Giroux and Hossa could be considered in his league defensively because they are also proven, elite penalty killers. But no other scoring forward is as often put at-risk for giving up scores as Datsyuk.
An elite offensive player who is the best defender should start. The voters know this, since he is second among Western Conference players in balloting.
Once you have your goalie and centre, the best players to lock up are those on the blue line who will play the most minutes. The NHL's oldest skater would benefit from one of its youngest stars as a defencemate.
The Nashville Predators have the league's lowest payroll and are getting the most out of it. They play in the toughest division in the conference yet project to be its eighth seed based on point percentage.
Shea Weber is a big reason for that. Aside from his leadership as its captain, he leads all defencemen in the conference with 29 points through his first 36 games. He is a defensive force who can be physical, is plus-12 and fifth in ice time.
Jonathan Toews is a leader and a champion who plays on both ends of the ice. Chicago would not be among the top five NHL teams in point percentage without him.
He put up 22 goals and 19 assists through his first 40 games and is near the top of the league in plus-minus. This means he belongs in the All Star Game.
As the top forward in balloting from the Western Conference, he should start.
Jordan Eberle is an amazingly talented forward. He may be the game's biggest star within the next couple seasons.
But he is not there yet. Players like Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane are not only better, but have gotten more votes. Both Sedins are better on both ends of the ice.
So why put him in as a starter in the All-Star Game?
The game is meant to be a visual spectacle, and his skill set will enhance that. Much of the hockey world does not get to see this young man play because he is in its second most western time zone, and many people are in bed by the time the puck drops.
But while he still needs to develop defensively, he has 17 goals and 26 assists playing for a team that is not very deep, meaning he draws the opposition's toughest defenders almost every shift. Since he is already All-Star worthy, why not feature him for the good of the game?