The NHL’s new division-based All-Star Game format produced some unusual omissions. What would a fifth mini-team made of snubs look like?
It’s best not to fight the feeling. Yes, it can be annoying to see snub discussions explode on social media every time an All-Star Game in any major sport names its participants. But it’s a rite of passage, something fans and writers alike just have to do. Think of it as cathartic. Take my virtual hand. We’ll power through this together.
Under the new 3-on-3 tournament format for the 2016 All-Star Game, held in Nashville, players are divided into four teams, one for each division. While I’m confident the gimmick will yield a fun experience Jan. 31, it was built for snubs all along. The Central Division, for instance, is so talent-rich that its B squad could win the tournament.
The All-Snub team thus has a decidedly Central slant to it. Think of this year’s snub selections as “guys done wrong by the format who probably would’ve made the cut in other seasons.” And keep in mind each squad must have a player from every team in the division. That’s as much a reason for the snubs as any.
ALL-SNUB FORWARDS (6)
Mike Cammalleri, New Jersey Devils
Cammalleri turned back the clock and is on pace for his best season since he amassed 39 goals and 82 points, both career bests, with the Calgary Flames in 2008-09. He was 26 then, so he’s been all the more impressive considering he’s 33 now. Injuries have gotten the better of him this week – it was only a matter of time, sadly – but the body of work deserves recognition. His 35 points tie him for 18th in league scoring.
His teammate, goaltender Cory Schneider, deserved to lock up the Devils’ one guaranteed spot. Superstars John Tavares and Claude Giroux haven’t been as good as Cammalleri so far but are their teams’ lone reps, leaving Cammalleri in the cold.
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
The Draisaitl snub is tough to explain. Yes, any Pacific Division hopeful gets blocked by John Scott, but that hurts Scott’s Arizona teammates more than anyone, as the Coyotes were guaranteed one rep. Draisaitl is a crucial reason Edmonton has remained on the playoff periphery in Connor McDavid’s absence. Draisaitl’s 1.03 points per game rank sixth in the NHL. Yet Corey Perry makes the team over him, even with another Duck cracking the Pacific roster? What gives?
Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators
Only six players have more goals than Hoffman, who has followed up last year’s late-bloom breakout with an even better performance. Fourteen of his 19 goals have come at even strength. Fellow Atlantic Division dweller Leo Komarov has been a revelation for the Leafs, but Hoffman has been flat-out better, as has Ottawa teammate Bobby Ryan. Alas, blueliner Erik Karlsson was the Sens’ automatic participant, so Hoffman was hard-pressed to squeeze into one of six forward spots.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
The Capitals have been the Eastern Conference’s best team and thus deserve oodles of all-star selections. Again, the format blocks it. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby give the Caps three of 11 spots on a Metropolitan squad that must represent eight teams in total. With seven other places guaranteed to go to other Metro teams, that left just one available all-star nod. The deck was stacked against Kuznetsov, who otherwise would’ve made it to Nashville on merit. He has blossomed into a great playmaker and a borderline point-per-game player.
Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues
Over the past three seasons Steen has a superior points per game to Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Anze Kopitar, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, among many others…and yet Steen has never been named to an All-Star Game. Not even when he’s tied for 12th in NHL scoring. He’s a heady two-way player to boot.
Nashville’s three selections pretty much doomed Steen, especially since Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko was a shoo-in.
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Seventh in points! An outstanding 40 points in 40 games! Such is life trying to make an all-star squad for the Central Division. Even though just six players have more points than the big, soft-handed Wheeler, four of them play in the Central. Wow.
Matt Duchene hasn’t been nearly as good as Wheeler, but someone had to represent Colorado. The closest thing to a legit gripe a Jets fan could have would be Jonathan Toews, who is quietly enduring his worst offensive season ever. But Toews’ all-around game makes him All-Star Game worthy pretty much every season.
ALL-SNUB DEFENSEMEN (3)
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Ouch. Carlson has done everything except outscore Erik Karlsson. Other than that, Carlson continues to spur the Capitals as their alpha defenseman, their minute muncher, their power play quarterback. He’s all-star material. His snub should be tougher to stomach than Kuznetsov’s, as the Penguins’ Kris Letang wasn’t a mandatory add since Evgeni Malkin made the Metro team. No way Letang has outplayed Carlson in 2015-16, sorry.
Carlson making it would’ve given Washington four players in the All-Star Game, more than any other team could boast, but that would accurately represent the team with the NHL’s best record, no?
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Ekman-Larsson can thank John Scott – or the fans who voted Scott in. Ekman-Larsson hasn’t been dominant enough to earn a non-mandatory spot, but he surely would’ve been Arizona’s rep if not for Scott. Shane Doan could’ve gotten a look, too.
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
Two snubs in particular leap off the page this season and one is Klingberg, who is enjoying one of the best offensive seasons by a defenseman in recent memory, with a sparkling 38 points in 42 games. Yes, he’s not an elite shutdown monster in the vein of a Shea Weber, but come on.
From what I can surmise, Toews making the team started the chain reaction that bumped Klingberg out. Toews blocked Wheeler, meaning Byfuglien got the nod for the Central blueline as Winnipeg’s mandatory pick, and that nudged Klingberg aside. The host Preds get two D-men, but it’s tough to argue against Weber or Roman Josi, who are really, really good at hockey.
And by the way, I didn’t forget about Ryan Suter. But goaltender Devan Dubnyk is Minnesota’s lone rep, and the Dubnyk nod made it next to impossible for Suter to make it. He would’ve had to leapfrog Klingberg and displace Josi or Weber.
ALL-STAR SNUB GOALTENDERS (2)
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues
Allen, long considered an elite netminding prospect, has really put it all together for the Blues in 2015-16, finally surpassing Brian Elliott to become a true No. 1. Allen is 18-10-2 with a 2.11 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and five shutouts. The immediate temptation may be to tout him over Dubnyk – but what about Pekka Rinne?
Rinne is an outstanding goaltender. in a recent magazine edition of THN, we polled 10 retired NHL goalies to rank the top 30 stoppers in the game today, and Rinne finished second, one spot behind Carey Price.
But has Rinne deceived our eyes a bit this year with his tremendous size and athleticism? His numbers suggest he shouldn’t play in the All-Star Game. His .908 SP ranks 35th in the NHL among qualified leaders. It’s difficult to justify his selection given how good Allen has been. And, even more than Allen…
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Forget the two Stanley Cups for a minute. Judge Crawford solely based on his performance this year. Shutouts? How about six in half a season, more than anyone else? A .925 SP? More victories than everyone except Holtby and Jonathan Quick?
Crawford soldiers on as goaltending’s true Rodney Dangerfield, having never finished higher than sixth in Vezina Trophy voting. And, unlike many of the other snubbed players this year, Crawford can’t claim to be a victim of the system. He had a wide-open path to being selected and still wasn’t. It’s a shame.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin