By Allan Muir
When the NHL announces its annual All-Star teams at the league's awards show in June, it will stick with a formula that rings a bit untrue this season. How, after all, can someone be an All-NHL player if he hasn't played against the entire NHL?
In coming up with our end-of-regular season honors, we've decided that the lockout-abbreviated campaign requires a different take, so our All-NHL teams will be broken down by conference to reflect the unique scheduling.
Here are our Western honorees. You can find my Eastern picks here.
Center: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
A legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, Toews has been the best player on hockey's best team. His ability to excel in any situation made him the go-to guy late in the game whether the Hawks were protecting a one-goal lead or trying to tie it up, and his 60.3 winning percentage qualified him as the best face-off man in the West. He leads the NHL with a plus-27 rating, and has launched 137 shots, second only to Logan Couture in the West.
Right wing: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
He's taken a back seat to Toews as the season winds down, but during Chicago's record-setting start Kane was the most dynamic player in hockey. He's displayed a knack for scoring goals when the team needs them the most and has been the league's most dangerous player in the shootout, topping the charts in chances (11) goals (6) and game-deciding goals (3). He remains the conference's leading scorer and is a likely Lady Byng candidate.
Left wing: Taylor Hall, Oilers
On a team built around inconsistent youth, the bullish Hall has emerged as both the Oilers' most reliable performer and a potential future captain. He's aggressive, but no longer as reckless as he was last season, and that's led to better two-way play and higher quality scoring chances. He's been cashing them in, too, earning a perch among the league's top-10 scorers. He's also shown a mean streak (just ask Cal Clutterbuck) that paints him as a new-age power forward.
Defenseman: Ryan Suter, Wild
Suter got off to a memorably rocky start as he struggled to adapt to a new system in Minnesota, but he's now the clear favorite to win the Norris Trophy. He's the league's marathon man, his average 27:13 workload has been inflated by nine games of more than 30 minutes of hard labor. He leads all Western defenders in assists (28) and points (32). But his finest achievement is seen in the steady play of rookie Jonas Brodin, whose smooth transition to the NHL owes a great deal to Suter's steady leadership.
Defenseman: Francois Beauchemin, Ducks
Sporting a plus-20 rating that is second only to teammate Sheldon Souray among blueliners, Beauchemin emerged as the defensive rock for the surprising Ducks. His game is more quiet than Suter's, but he's equally effective. Playing a shutdown role against the league's best forwards, he's proved effective at playing the body and moving the puck out of the zone. And he's not afraid to sacrifice his body -- Beauchemin's 106 blocks rank third in the conference.
Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
If the Hart was true its roots and awarded to the player who was most valuable to his team, Bobrovsky would be the runaway winner. Not to diminish the improved efforts of his teammates, but without him, the Jackets are competing for first-overall in the draft instead of a playoff spot. Through Tuesday, the year's breakthrough star boasted a 2.06 GAA and a .930 save percentage that was tops in the conference. Honorable mention: Antti Niemi, Sharks; Kari Lehtonen, Stars