Asked ahead of the campaign to select potential captains for each of the NHL’s four divisions, frontrunners probably would have included Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews for the Atlantic, Washington Capitals captain and defending Stanley Cup champion Alex Ovechkin in the Metropolitan, Colorado Avalanche pivot and last season’s Hart Trophy runner-up Nathan MacKinnon for the Central and the Pacific’s no-brainer selection would have been phenom Connor McDavid.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that each of those four have earned their way into the All-Star Game this coming season as winners of the All-Star Fan Vote.
On Thursday, the NHL announced that the four stars will represent their respective divisions at the upcoming all-star weekend in San Jose, which is set to take place Jan. 25 and 26. But the selection of the four captains by fans still leaves a lot of room for debate about who fills out the divisional squads, each of which will include six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders. Adding the final 40 players — 10 from each division — won’t be up to the fans, however, as the league will determine who represents each division as the nearly annual showcase.
So, who will the league send? As anyone who’s paid attention to roster selection in the past can attest, it’s almost impossible to pin down, but we’ve taken an early stab at the rosters more than a month out from the festivities:
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs*
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins
Matthews was a shoo-in to head to all-star weekend, captain or not, and it only makes sense that the perceived top three teams in the division, the Maple Leafs, Lightning and Bruins, will each send a pair of players to San Jose. That leaves the Sabres, who are ahead of Boston in the standings, sending just one player. The 11-player rosters makes for some tough decisions, particularly with each team needing representation.
The Snub: Mitch Marner should be present, but Rielly’s standout season on the back end and Matthews’ inclusion as the captain puts the league in a tough spot. Including Marner would reduce the Lightning’s representation at the game or limit the Bruins to just a single skater. Marner’s not the only snub, to be sure, as Brayden Point is deserving of an all-star nod, as is Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov and Jeff Skinner and…you get the point. There are only so many spots.
The Controversial Pick: Including Keith Yandle might ruffle some feathers in Florida, but finding a spot for a Panthers player to make the cut in a star-studded division is difficult. He’s having a tremendous year, though, and if the blueline could be filled by five or six skaters, there’s little doubt that Yandle would have a place.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals*
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Mat Barzal, New York Islanders
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
The defending Stanley Cup champions and division leaders should have the most representation, and that’s exactly what they get in our mock up, sending a player at each position. Of course, the limited roster means a number of deserving Capitals don’t make the roster. Nicklas Backstrom will likely miss out, but the league might want to consider putting Evgeny Kuznetsov on the short list as an injury replacement. He could bring some style and fun-loving celebration to the festivities.
The Snub: Cam Atkinson had a tough start to his 2017-18 season that has allowed him to subsequently fly under the radar through the early part of the current campaign. That said, he’s the division’s only other 20-goal scorer — he has 23, six fewer than Ovechkin — and only five players in the Metro have put up more points than Atkinson.
The Controversial Pick: Is Holtby deserving of one of the two goaltending spots for the Metro? Maybe not, particularly when comparing his numbers to other top keepers in the division. But here’s the thing: name value, like it or not, matters. Holtby, who has a Vezina and now a Stanley Cup in his trophy case, comes with a level of cachet that Casey DeSmith and Thomas Greiss can’t match.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche*
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan O’Reilly, St Louis Blues
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
The Snub: There is no reason why Blake Wheeler should miss all-star weekend. None whatsoever. But there are two factors working against him. The first is that he’s trailing behind Scheifele when it comes to point production. The other is that Laine is one of the brightest young stars in the game. The league will want to showcase the Jets’ super sniper, who is second in the division in goals. That means no room for Wheeler.
The Controversial Pick: Is there one? A rock-solid case can be made for each and every selection. No one needs to be shoehorned into the lineup just to ensure representation for each team.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers*
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Make it three in a row for McDavid as the Pacific captain. The Oilers phenom was the no-brainer choice. But that doesn’t really mean he’ll be the face of the Pacific team, especially with the game being hosted by the Sharks. Hometown boys Pavelski, Couture and Burns will be the real leaders of the squad, with San Jose faithful certain to give their trio of representatives the biggest ovations.
The Snub: Leon Draisaitl is a victim of circumstance. If the All-Star Game was being held anywhere but San Jose, he’d be on the team. But there’s going to be some pleasing the hometown crowd, and that’s where the three Sharks come in.
The Controversial Pick: Does Joe Pavelski deserve to make it ahead of Draisaitl? Ahead of Matthew Tkachuk or Sean Monahan or Elias Lindholm? Has he even earned the nod over teammate Timo Meier? That’s up for debate. The thinking goes, however, that Pavelski is the Sharks’ captain, and as the captain of the host city’s squad, ‘Little Joe’ should be there as a crowdpleaser.