SAN JOSE, Calif. – When coach Todd McLellan steps behind the West bench at the all-star game next weekend, he’ll probably have more Anaheim Ducks at his disposal than his own San Jose Sharks.
Yes, those are the same Ducks who trailed the NHL-leading Sharks by 20 points in the Pacific Division entering Wednesday night’s games. San Jose’s club-record 32 victories in 42 games didn’t translate into individual honours for anybody except McLellan, former MVP Joe Thornton and defenceman Dan Boyle, who make up the entire teal contingent playing in the main event in Montreal.
“Of course you’d like to think we’d have more, but it’s more about the process and way the selections are set up,” McLellan said. “Sometimes that process skews who gets into the game, and some guys who are deserving might not get recognized.”
Thanks to the NHL’s policies of fan voting for starters and its determination to have one all-star from each team, McLellan won’t be joined by captain Patrick Marleau, the Western Conference’s leading goal-scorer.
Defenceman Rob Blake, the hard-hitting veteran enjoying a late-career renaissance, also was skipped. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov, a former all-star who’s second in the league in victories, is staying home as well.
Yet aside from Jeremy Roenick, it’s tough to find anybody in the Sharks’ locker-room willing to express disappointment in the snubs of the NHL’s most successful team. Thornton acknowledges that after three straight playoff disappointments, the Sharks are wary of showing any thoughts of entitlement until their post-season success matches their mid-season prowess.
Marleau, who has 48 points in 42 games so far in a spectacular campaign, quickly found the bright side when told he was staying home – no surprise from the eternally optimistic captain who also wouldn’t acknowledge much disappointment during his profound struggles last season.
“It’s just more time to rest and spend with the family,” said Marleau, the league’s 10th-leading scorer. “There’s really two sides to it. It’s too bad for Nabby and Blakey, since both of those guys are having really great seasons that you’d like to see recognized. But it’s really just one game, one weekend, and we can use the rest later in the year.”
Roenick is among many NHL observers who dislike the league’s fan voting, which elected Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer (25 points, minus-1 rating) to the starting lineup ahead of Boyle (34 points, plus-9) and Blake (29 points, plus-13). Young Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be starters ahead of Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, who have teamed up with Thornton to form the NHL’s most feared line this season.
At least Setoguchi, the second-year pro who has outscored Toews and Kane this season, will participate in the YoungStars game.
With Thornton in his sixth straight all-star game, the Sharks’ biggest spotlight will be on all-star rookies Boyle and McLellan, who will be assisted by Mike Babcock, his boss last season in Detroit.
McLellan claims he doesn’t plan any hazing or donut runs for Babcock. McLellan has bigger worries: He plans to catch a redeye flight after the Sharks’ final game against Vancouver on Tuesday night so he can get to Detroit in time to watch his 12-year-old son, Tyson, play in a Silver Sticks tournament before the all-star festivities.
“We’re just basically there to say, ‘Next,”‘ McLellan said with a laugh. “They don’t need Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan there to manage themselves. We’ll get to laugh and smile on the bench. That never happens.”