Rob Blake knows an all-star when he sees one. And he's come to grips with the fact he wasn't able to invite all of them to Ottawa's Scotiabank Place later this month for the NHL's all-star weekend.
"There are some real good players, like every year, that aren't going," he said in an interview.
Blake made seven all-star appearances during a Hall of Fame career that ended in 2010. Now manager of the NHL's hockey operations department, he's been tasked with overseeing the event.
A big part of that role was deciding on the list of invitees along with Brendan Shanahan and other members of the hockey operations staff. It involved more than simply grabbing a stats sheet and picking the leaders in each relevant category.
"The selection process is difficult," said Blake. "What we do is we kind of submit lists amongst us and then chop the list and get it down. You figure in past Stanley Cup champions, you figure in obviously scoring leaders from years ago and some of the older players and different things—there's a lot that goes into it.
"And then obviously trying to have a representative from every team, whether it be a young star or an all-star."
The all-star weekend kicks off Jan. 26 with a fantasy draft and includes the skills competition Jan. 28 and the game Jan. 29.
Fans voted in the first six all-stars—four of whom play for the host Senators—with the hockey operations staff adding the remaining 36 players last week. The list of invites included each of the top-10 scorers entering play Thursday along with four of the top five goaltenders in save percentage.
Among those that were overlooked: forwards Patrice Bergeron (Boston), James Neal (Pittsburgh), Scott Hartnell (Philadelphia), Kris Versteeg (Florida) and Radim Vrbata (Phoenix).
Each of them still has a chance to find his way there as an injury replacement.
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn is currently sidelined following an appendectomy while Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu is out with a shoulder injury. If Benn is unable to play, Blake indicated that he would likely be replaced by a Stars teammate—"Loui Eriksson is having a strong year." In the case of Koivu, a player from another team would probably take his spot.
The Wild currently have their captain listed as "week to week" with an injury he suffered last weekend.
"Mikko is a proud guy, and in a perfect world, he'd love to play," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said Wednesday. "I never doubt Mikko, (but) I just don't know. I've seen guys come back in two weeks from these type of injuries and I've seen it take quite a bit longer, so we'll see."
Blake is hoping to have a better sense of where each player stands early next week.
Injuries already kept Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp from earning an invitation. Both were on the sidelines when the final selections were made.
"Their obligation is to come back healthy for their team and not to come back healthy just for the all-star game," said Blake.
Two other notable omissions earned a free pass from the league. Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom and Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne—a pair of 41-year-olds possibly in their final NHL season—each asked to be given some time off.
Blake was more than comfortable obliging those requests.
"There's only a few (players) each year that have earned that right and those two guys have definitely represented the league a number of times and been outstanding players," said Blake. "A lot goes into how they're feeling for their run down the stretch. You obviously want them to be ready for their team especially—a guy like Nick Lidstrom is continuously in conference finals and Stanley Cup finals, the amount of games he plays. ...
"Those two guys have earned more respect from their years of service in the league."
Blake oversaw a run-through of the skills competition a couple weeks back in Toronto and expects only "subtle changes" to the fantasy draft that will see Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara pick teams for the event. The format made a popular debut last year and is arguably the most anticipated part of the event this time around.
A big part of that is seeing who ends up being the last man standing—with Blake willing to predict it wouldn't be the same player as last year.
"I'm sure (Phil) Kessel will be a high pick so good for him," he said.