Every year someone gets slighted in the All-Star process. Even players who make the final draw face being snubbed under the NHL's recent pond-hockey in prime-time select-a-team format. Just ask Phil Kessel who, as the last player taken at the event last season, endured the ribbing that goes along with the age old playground diss. But Kessel handled the situation well. Deservedly, he will be there once more for the game in Ottawa on Jan. 29 and if the captains have a punk'd mentality, they will make sure that Kessel is the last player taken again. Now, that would be funny.
Less amusing, but hardly earthshattering, is the All-Star vote itself. It's great to have the fans involved and let the popularity contest begin. Still, while far be it for me to say that any of the goaltending brethren don't belong on the ballot, Jimmy Howard's exclusion raises the debate. I mean, Howard leads the NHL in wins, ranks second in goalsagainst and has been the most consistent of all starters thus far. And unlike Brian Elliott and his otherworldly season to date, this is Howard's third consecutive season posting big numbers for Detroit. In St. Louis, the thought was that Elliott, hopefully, could back up Jaroslav Halak who, by the way, is on the All-Star ballot.
Which is kind of the point.
Nothing against Halak, but he isn't even the top performer on his team. His last two seasons as a starter didn't yield 30 wins, or playoff appearances. Meanwhile, Howard has two-straight 37-win campaigns on which he is building.
It is the perfect scenario to at least get ballot recognition. I know, body of work goes a long way in these fan-voting events, thus the inclusion of Nik Khabibulin of Edmonton, Miikka Kiprusoff or Calgary and Tomas Vokoun or Washington. None of these guys have been truly relevant in ages. They play a lot and have served as legitimate number one netminders for a long time. Got it.
But, how then do you explain James Reimer of the Maple Leafs?
Injured most of the current season, Reimer's body of work remains a nice half-season showing for an out of contention team. Good start to his NHL career and good for the Leafs to have found hope in goal, but All-Star? Yes, you will find Reimer's name on the All-Star ballot, but not Howard's.
Again, nothing against James Reimer, or the trio of vets that I mentioned above. This is about Jimmy Howard's omission. What does it stem from? Well, it probably has little to do with Howard and more to do with his being the starter for the Red Wings. It is a tough position in the scope of Detroit sports. Ask Chris Osgood. He won Stanley Cups and posted 401 career wins and still people will say his winning had more to do with his teams being strong than his excellence.
Howard inherits that hard-to-please mantle in Motown as the Red Wings' go-to goaltender. He has handled the job remarkably well. That local perspective may have impacted the larger view, specifically his All-Star ballot inclusion. The best part is that the "snub" has had a galvanizing impact on the fan base with a local drive time host on the iconic WRIF --"the riff" -- organizing a grass roots write-in campaign on Howard's behalf.
At the very least, Howard not being on the ballot has sparked more positive talk about his outstanding play than usual. And that is a good thing.
After all, recognition, even if it comes grudgingly, has to begin at home.