This year’s NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 31 has already met its quota for controversy.
There was the switch in format to one that will see the league’s four divisions facing off against each other in a 3-on-3 mini-tournament. There was the decision to do away with the popular Fantasy Draft. And then there was that fan voting debacle.
And we haven’t even gotten to the usual rending of garments and gnashing of teeth that follows the announcement of the roster fill-out.
That will come on Wednesday when the league reveals the players who who will join team captains Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jaromir Jagr and John Scott at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for All-Star Weekend.
Narrowing down the list is no easy task. The new format, which will see four divisional teams comprised of six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies (with each team getting at least one representative) is bound to leave a few deserving players at home, as happens every year.
But I’m here to help with the process. Here’s who should get the call for the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions (Central and Pacific picks are here):
Patrice Bergeron (Bruins): Defensive stalwart is playing at an MVP caliber; leads Eastern Conference with 18 power play points.
Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): Leads Buffalo in goals (15) and points (33); average ice time of 21:55 per game leads all NHL forwards.
Dylan Larkin (Red Wings):
Jaromir Jagr (Panthers): Elder statesman elected by fans as team captain; leads surprising Panthers with 13 goals, 28 points.
Aleksander Barkov (Panthers): Doesn’t yet provide the offense of some in the division, but his brilliant Kopitar-like two-way game has been key to Florida’s surprising success.
Mike Hoffman (Senators): Second in the Eastern Conference with 19 goals; fourth in the league with 2.68 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five.
P.K. Subban (Canadiens): Montreal’s offensive catalyst; third among all defensemen with 26 assists.
Erik Karlsson (Senators): Second overall in assists (33) and fourth in points (42); averaging 28:27 per game, most in league.
Morgan Rielly (Maple Leafs): Leafs need a rep and young blueliner has shown poise and promise in first year under Mike Babcock.
Roberto Luongo (Panthers): Leads division with 17 wins: 2.09 GAA has him on track for personal best.
Ben Bishop (Lightning): Has been Tampa Bay’s steadiest player during trying first half of the season.
Brandon Saad (Blue Jackets):
John Tavares (Islanders): Leads New York with 15 goals and four game-winners; tops on team at five-on-five scoring per 60 (1.89).
Kyle Palmieri (Devils): Enjoying breakthrough season as catalyst for offensively-challenged Devils; 17 goals rank fourth in conference.
Claude Giroux (Flyers): Tops Philly with 12 goals, 29 points; second among divisional forwards with 20:19 TOI.
Evgeni Malkin (Penguins): Leading scorer in Eastern Conference (18-19-37); second in conference with 16 power-play points.
Alex Ovechkin (Capitals): Elected by fans as team captain; leads conference with 21 goals.
Justin Faulk (Hurricanes):
Keith Yandle (Rangers): Tops Blueshirts with 19 assists; has been most reliable player on an underperforming blue line.
John Carlson (Capitals): Leads Metro defenders with 21 assists; catalyst for division’s best power play.
Cory Schneider (Devils): Gives New Jersey a chance to win every night; tops in the East in high-danger save percentage (89.3%).
Braden Holtby (Capitals): MVP contender at the midpoint; on pace to top 50 wins, which would smash single-season league record.
The numbers game
• Colorado’s Jarome Iginla is now the 19th player in NHL history to score 600 goals. The only other active player to achieve the feat: Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, who ranks fourth all-time with 735.
• Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, is now the third member of the 2005 draft class to score 200 career goals (201 in 565 games). The others: Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (313 in 664) and Los Angeles’s Anze Kopitar (228 in 722).
• Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin needs two goals to tie Markus Naslund (346) for the most in franchise history.
• Nice job, fans. Jaromir Jagr is really not happy that you voted for him as an All-Star Game captain.
• The NHL and NHLPA are on the verge of a major domestic violence initiative. Sounds like this will be a significant step in the right direction.
• Jonathan Drouin’s teammates in Tampa Bay offer their thoughts on his trade request.
• A trio of Canadian teams reportedly are in hot pursuit of Columbus prospect Kerby Rychel.
• All that separates the Hurricanes from more regular visits to the win column might be a little of this.
• Missed this over the weekend: Gare Joyce with a brilliant retelling of the greatest upset in World Junior history.