The NHL released the names of the first six players voted into the 2011 NHL All Star Game today, less than a month before the spectacle will take place on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011.
Four members of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury-and two from the Chicago Blackhawks-Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith-collected the most fan votes to earn a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Each player is deserving of the recognition, but the talk around the league may be about who wasn't chosen, rather than who was. Players like Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos were not among those with the most votes, and while that may surprise some, it's clear that they lack something each of the others have.
The six players chosen all have something rather large in common, and it doesn't take the most dedicated follower to realize what that is.
Each player has been on a Stanley Cup winning team in the past two seasons.
That's right, it appears that not only do players have to have personal success on the ice to garner votes for the All Star Game, but they must be wearing a Stanley Cup ring to get the fans attention.
It's a rather interesting turn of events, as it's clear fans are giving more and more appreciation to the players who are apart of winner, rather than just to guys who pump up their individual stats but fall short of the glory at the end of the season.
Stamkos has 82 goals in the past season and a half (121 games), and though he sits behind only Crosby this season, it still wasn't enough to get his name voted among the starters. Ditto for Ovechkin, who has 151 points in his last 112 games since the start of last season, and has been a focal point of the hit HBO series this year. It still wasn't enough.
Fans leaned more towards the players they've seen more of the past two seasons, and we sure have seen a lot of the Penguins and Blackhawks in that time. But it's not just that they saw them play more, it's that they've watched them win more.
Sure, the starters have all had individual success recently. Crosby, after scoring 51 goals last season, is on pace to eclipse the mark this year while on his way to some serious personal hardware. Letang is one of the highest scoring defenseman in the NHL this year. Fleury has been one of the best goalies, with an impressive 17-9-3 record to start the season.
And it doesn't hurt that Keith was the winner of the Norris Trophy last season, while Toews took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs, and Directorate Award as the top forward in the 2010 Olympics.
Crosby and Toews were also the two captains of said Champions (the two youngest in history), while the other four played large roles on the road to Cup glory for their respective teams.
But there's more to all this than each players personal trophy case at home.
It says a lot for what fans look at when voting for the starters. Whether they know it themselves or not, it seems that the players who have deep runs into the playoffs resinate more in their minds. The players we sit and watch play right through until June, stick out more than those who don't.
The ring is the thing, as they say.
Some may argue that this is simply Penguins and Blackhawks fans voicing their opinion louder than those of other teams, which may be entirely true, but it doesn't hurt that while watching each team battle right to the end over the past two seasons, each team sure had a lot of fans jumping on the old bandwagon.
It probably doesn't hurt that four of the six All Stars were members of Canada's Gold Medal winning hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
There's no doubt that Ovechkin, Stamkos, and other perennial superstars will be among those chosen to represent the NHL at the end of the month, it would be crazy to think otherwise, but the fan balloting proved that it isn't only coaches who stress a 'team mentality' these days.
If you want to win in the NHL, it takes a team effort.
Now, according to fans, it also takes that same team effort to get voted into the All Star Game.