Alexander Ovechkin has had a great season. So have Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Phil Kessel and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. And the quality of the campaign the five Metropolitan Division standouts are piecing together has been thus far reflected in the NHL’s All-Star Game fan vote, with each player, in the order listed, sitting among the top five divisional vote getters.
Oddly, though, there’s one name not found in the top five of the Metropolitan voting who has more than earned the right to be there: New York Islanders winger Josh Bailey.
In many ways, this has been a dream season for Bailey. A career second-liner who only battled his way onto the top unit last season, Bailey, 28, showed the potential for an offensive breakout last season, putting up 13 goals and 56 points, a career-best mark, in his first stint as a regular on the top unit. This campaign, though, Bailey is capitalizing on that potential and then some. Through 32 games, Bailey has eight goals and 38 points, is averaging an even 18 minutes per game and has found a fit as set up man for Tavares, the Islanders’ star center, better than anyone has in recent years. In fact, of Bailey’s 30 assists this season, which are the second most in the league, seven have been on goals by Tavares.
And the points pace Bailey is on is remarkable given he’s topped out at 56 in his career. If he were to keep this up, Bailey would end the campaign with 21 goals and 98 points, both far and away the best totals of his career. The former pace was recently boosted, too, by Bailey’s first career hat trick. Go figure, this season for Bailey is coming just as the 28-year-old is headed for unrestricted free agency, too. In the final year of a five-year, $16.5-million contract inked with New York in July 2013, Bailey is assuredly set to earn a sizeable raise on his current $3.3-million salary, too. On his way to a new career bests, a new deal and maybe even a new locale, Bailey is deserving of a new opportunity, as well: the chance to play at the All-Star Game.
And if, or when, Bailey arrives in Tampa Bay for the all-star festivities, here are the representatives from each team who should be joining him:
Arizona Coyotes: There’s not a whole lot that’s been great about the Coyotes’ season, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been steady and productive, potting six goals and 18 points. Clayton Keller is the club’s leading scorer, but he’s trending down statistically. He had 11 goals and 17 points in 16 games. He has one goal and seven points in 18 games since.
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson isn’t having an all-world campaign, but with the rest of the roster banged up, the Ducks netminder has had his work cut out for him. And while his win total might not be up to snuff with that of Jonathan Quick or Mike Smith, Gibson’s .922 save percentage is the second-best mark of Pacific starters.
Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak’s 34 goals and 70 points in 2016-17 marked his breakout season, but he’s on pace to one up that this campaign. Already, Pastrnak has 15 goals and 29 points and is on pace to put up at least 40 in each scoring category. It would be the first all-star appearance for Pastrnak.
Buffalo Sabres: Evander Kane has had himself a whale of a season, surely driving up his price in time for the trade deadline and free agency, but it’s hard to pass up sending Jack Eichel to the All-Star Game. He’s only four points back of Kane and is logging big minutes as a top-line pivot.
Calgary Flames: Three seasons, three All-Star Games for Johnny Gaudreau. Time to make it four-for-four. Already, Gaudreau is within five goals and 22 points of matching last season’s point total and after three campaigns in the 60- to 75-point range, ‘Johnny Hockey’ is heading toward a 33-goal, 100-point season.
Carolina Hurricanes: Taking on a salary dump from the Blackhawks helped the Hurricanes bring in Teuvo Teravainen, and the 23-year-old looks to be on his way to his breakout performance. He has eight goals and 24 points in 30 games, putting him in line for his first 20-goal and 60-point campaign.
Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford has been a stabilizing force for the Blackhawks for the past few seasons, posting a .922 SP over the past three campaigns, but he’s been Chicago’s backbone this season. Through 25 games, Crawford has a .934 SP, among the best in the league and better than any other netminder in the Central.
Colorado Avalanche: One player not suffering in Colorado post-Matt Duchene trade? Nathan MacKinnon. In 18 games since Duchene was shipped off to Ottawa, MacKinnon has put home 10 goals and 23 points, and he has 13 goals and 35 points on the season. He keeps this up, and MacKinnon could have his first 30-goal, 90-point campaign.
Columbus Blue Jackets: How is Artemi Panarin faring in Columbus, where he’s without former Blackhawks linemate Patrick Kane? He hasn’t missed a beat. Panarin is on pace for his third-straight 30-goal campaign and he’s found such good chemistry with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson that a career-best season isn’t out of the question.
Dallas Stars: At 26, John Klingberg is probably too young and not far enough removed from his last good season to have a real renaissance. He’s sure asserting himself as a top-scoring rearguard once again, though. In 32 games, he has four goals and 27 points, and that should be enough for him to punch his ticket to the All-Star Game.
Detroit Red Wings: It’s likely a two-horse race right now, but Dylan Larkin likely has the edge on teammate Anthony Mantha for the Red Wings. Larkin is leading the team in scoring, is seeing more ice time than any other Detroit forward and, most of all, it’d be great to see him head to the game just so he could go head-to-head with Connor McDavid in the fastest skater competition. Speaking of which…
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid is the clear-cut choice from the Oilers. Is it even worth discussing? One year after earning the Triple Crown of individual awards — both MVPs and the Art Ross — McDavid is right back in the fight for the league scoring lead and has a good chance to repeat despite the Oilers’ struggles.
Florida Panthers: Those not following the Panthers may suggest Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov or Aaron Ekblad for the All-Star Game, but why not give the nod to Vincent Trocheck? After all, it’s Trocheck who’s leading the Panthers in scoring and he’s quickly establishing himself as the perfect second-line center option.
Los Angeles Kings: Talk about a turnaround. Last season, Anze Kopitar couldn’t have found the net if he was looking through the Hubble Space Telescope. This season, he can’t miss. In 32 games, he has 16 goals and 38 points, putting him on pace for the best output of his career. He’s also an unquestionable frontrunner for the Selke Trophy.
Minnesota Wild: It’s not all about leading scorers, which is why Jason Zucker would make the perfect representative for the Wild. Sure, he’s right up there, two points back of Eric Staal for the Minnesota’s team lead, but Zucker’s speed and shiftiness are what really make him an intriguing all-star. He should get the chance to shine on a bigger stage.
Montreal Canadiens: With apologies to all of those who had their hearts set on competing in and possibly winning the Hardest Shot competition, Shea Weber should be given the chance to head to yet another All-Star Game.
Nashville Predators: An all-star in 2015, Filip Forsberg hasn’t done anything but improve over the past two-plus seasons. He’s scored 30 goals in back-to-back seasons, is on pace for another 30-goal campaign and his point output this season is better than its ever been. He’s one of the game’s more natural goal-scoring talents.
New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall’s first season as a Devil was mediocre by his standards. He played all right, but 20 goals was expected and his 53 points in 72 games were nearly 30 fewer than he scored in 75 games back in 2013-14. Hall has stepped it up this year, though, and he should be All-Star Game bound as he fires his way to a better than point-per-game season.
New York Rangers: Again, it’s not all about the leading scorer. Mats Zuccarello would no doubt be a worthy participant, but Pavel Buchnevich would be able to really turn some heads if given the spotlight. His 11 goals and 23 points rank second on the Rangers, respectively, and Buchnevich has some serious sniping skill.
Ottawa Senators: Given the way the Senators have played recently, some in Ottawa might suggest there’s not a player worthy of heading to the game. That said, Mark Stone most certainly deserves to go to the game, even if it means all-world rearguard Erik Karlsson is left at home. Stone is staring down a potential 35-goal, 70-point campaign right now.
Philadelphia Flyers: If he hasn’t already been inserted into the discussion, it might be time we talk about Jakub Voracek as one of the game’s best playmaking wingers. Over the past three-plus seasons, dating back to the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Nicklas Backstrom is the only forward with more assists. Voracek’s 31 this season are tied for the league lead.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in both goals and points with 15 and 37, respectively, but Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby. If Pittsburgh’s captain is healthy, he should be picked and head to the game. If there’s room for another skater from the Penguins, though, Kessel absolutely deserves the spot.
St. Louis Blues: From Philadelphia Flyers castoff to all-star with the Blues, Brayden Schenn has earned the nod from the moment the puck dropped on the 2017-18 campaign. His 16 goals and 37 points are tops in St. Louis and he’s been a monster on the first line. Getting selected would make for a first trip to the All-Star Game for Schenn.
San Jose Sharks: Brent Burns’ personality was made for the showcase, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s actually starting to pile up the points, either. Over his past 10 games, Burns has four goals and 10 points, which includes a run of three-straight two-point outings.
Tampa Bay Lighting: Who do you pick? Seriously, it’s not an easy decision. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are both locks given they’ve been trading the lead in the Art Ross race over the first third of the season, and Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov and Mikhail Sergachev are all worthy, too. But you know who should get to go? Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning netminder has really taken the reins as a starter.
Toronto Maple Leafs: One of the stars of the next generation, Auston Matthews has earned his place in the All-Star Game again this season. While other Maple Leafs have performed admirably, Matthews’ 13 goals and 26 points are tops on Toronto and he’s one of the top centers in the league already.
Vancouver Canucks: Last season, it was Bo Horvat who overtook the Sedin Twins to land a spot at the All-Star Game. This time around, another fresh face, Brock Boeser, is the most deserving of the trip. The rookie is a point per game player and a naturally gifted goal scorer, firing home 17 goals already.
Vegas Golden Knights: Prior to this season, William Karlsson had never scored more six goals and 25 points in a season. He’s set a new career mark with 15 goals and 26 points already, though, and he’s been quite possibly the biggest revelation to come out of the expansion draft.
Washington Capitals: It’s always hard to argue against sending Alex Ovechkin, given that he’s one of the most entertaining players in the game. It’s even harder to deny him his spot at the near-annual exhibition when he’s leading the league in goals. His 22 goals put him on pace for the eighth 50-goal campaign of his career.
Winnipeg Jets: For as good as Mark Scheifele has been over the past two seasons, he’s still without an All-Star Game appearance. And while Blake Wheeler, also with zero trips to the All-Star Game, will no doubt give Scheifele some competition this year, it’s about time the Jets first-line center gets to show his stuff alongside the game’s best and brightest.
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