By Allan Muir
The 2013 NHL All-Star Game was a casualty of the lockout, but as the season nears the midway point, that doesn't mean we can't play a little game of "what if" -- as in "what players would have earned a trip to fabulous Columbus if hockey's ultimate schmoozefest had only be delayed a few weeks instead of being punted to 2015?"
Yeah, assembling a make-believe lineup card like this is a bit of a bear trap. For as little meaning as the game itself carries, the rosters always generate a wholly unsupported level of controversy. We care about who goes a lot more than most of the players do (hey, a four-day weekend in a place of their choosing sounds pretty sweet to those guys right about this time of year). But it's that passion for our personal favorites that makes putting this list together -- and then having it ripped apart -- so much fun.
Just to make it interesting, I decided that every team required representation. That means a few worthy players were left off the roster to make room for others whose place seems a little more charitable than earned.
With that in mind, here's who I think deserves to represent the Western Conference. For my Eastern Conference picks, see here.
See an obvious snub? Feel free to blast away in the comment section below.
Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings -- His scoring has dried up since he's been paired with Justin Abdelkader and Dan Cleary, but Datsyuk remains the game's best two-way player and the one most capable of creating a highlight at any moment.
Matt Duchene, Avalanche -- He hasn't just been the best player on a bad team. Duchene deserves recognition for the significant strides he's made. His skating and compete level are way ahead of where they were last year.
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks -- He does it all for the mighty Hawks. Among his contributions: he's the most dominant face-off man in the West, winning 59.9 percent of his draws.
Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings -- Last month, Wayne Gretzky called Zetterberg "my favorite player over the last 10 years." Not going to find a better endorsement than that.
Francois Beauchemin, Ducks -- Quietly putting together a season that should earn him consideration as a dark horse Norris candidate.
Duncan Keith, Blackhawks -- He's worked his way back into the Norris conversation after a couple of subpar seasons.
Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets -- Chances are an aggressive fan voting campaign would have seen a couple of Jackets make the roster if the game had gone as planned in Columbus. Since it didn't, and the team has to have one rep, Tyutin gets the nod by default. He's been their most consistent defender.
Corey Crawford, Blackhawks -- Viewed by many as Chicago's weak link prior to the season, Crawford has played a key role in their record-setting streak. He leads the West in wins, GAA and save percentage.
Antti Niemi, Sharks -- Another former whipping boy, Niemi is putting together a season that might be even better than Crawford's, considering how much less support he gets at both ends of the ice.
Marian Hossa, F, Blackhawks -- The Hawks deserve another All-Star in recognition of their record start, and Hossa's next in line. He leads the team in shots and has four game-winners to his credit, including a pair in OT.
Brent Seabrook, D, Blackhawks -- Another stellar performer for Chicago. He leads the team in blocked shots (54) and is second in hits (45). Ray Emery, G, Blackhawks -- Yeah, he's the backup, but that didn't stop Brian Elliott last year. Emery is unbeaten in 10 appearances and has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of them.