Much like the All-Star Game itself, finding displeasure with the selections made leading up to the showcase weekend is a near annual tradition. This season, however, the NHL appears to have found a workaround for the laundry list of snubs that seems to appear in the days following the all-star roster announcement: the Last Men In vote.
The Last Men In vote gives fans the power to add one final player to each of the divisional rosters, and within each division, each team is given one representative. Easy enough, right? And it’s not a half-bad idea. In effect, what the NHL has done is put the onus on the fans to fill out the rosters, and in doing so, the voting public will be the ones who decide which top players from each team — among those not already named to the roster, of course — will be heading to San Jose and which will be left at home. It’s a clever way to avoid the snub title, because can it really be a snub if the fans, collectively, failed to vote a player in?
Ah, who are we kidding. Of course it can. And the heated debate over what is effectively a meaningless game with meaningless rosters is part of the All-Star Game fun. So, let’s get down to it. Here are the divisional rosters ahead of the showcase, which broadcasts from San Jose during the final weekend of January, along with the good picks, the bad picks, the omissions and a look at the Last Man In ballots:
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs*
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Last Man In Candidates
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Good: The Panthers boast plenty of bright, young offensive talents, and it would have been easy for the NHL to select one of those players to represent Florida in San Jose. But Keith Yandle, who has two all-star appearances under his belt already, has earned his trip this season. His six-goal, 32-point season has flown under the radar. Only seven defensemen in the entire NHL have more points than the Panthers veteran rearguard. He’s the right choice.
The Bad: We get the need to fill out the roster with top talents from each team, but to name Carey Price as one of two netminders at a time when he’s injured and struggling to the tune of a .904 save percentage through 29 starts is a head-shaking choice. Price’s numbers among Atlantic goaltenders with at least 10 starts are barely in the top 10. His SP is tied for 10th with Louis Domingue — Louis Domingue! — and seven of the 16 goaltenders with 10 appearances have a better goals-against average. Price’s name carries value. A ton of it. But if the weekend is supposed to be a showcase of the best in the league from the first half of the season, Price’s place among the all-stars is questionable, at best.
The Omission: All right, we can get behind Tavares’ presence at an All-Star Game, particularly given he’s on pace to have a career year in his first season with the Maple Leafs. But to have Tavares on the roster, Rielly on the Last Man In ballot and no Mitch Marner anywhere in sight is ridiculous. Marner leads the Maple Leafs in scoring by nine points and sits sixth in the Art Ross Trophy race. He’s likely to be the first of Toronto’s star-studded roster to hit 60 points, and he’s on pace to finish well above the 100-point plateau. Of all the omissions, the most glaring is Marner.
Last Man In: There are a few schools of thought here. Based on point production, it should be Point. Based on filling out the roster, it should be Rielly. But based on giving fans a real showdown in the skills competition, leaving Larkin out of the lineup would be a crime. Both he and Connor McDavid are in their primes right now, and neither player is going to get much faster than they are today. If ever we’re going to get the best Fastest Skater competition possible, now is the time. Give us Larkin vs. McDavid. (But let’s get serious: Leafs Nation is likely going to stuff the ballot box and get Rielly in the game.)
Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Last Man In Candidates
Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes
Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets
Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
Anders Lee, New York Islanders
Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
The Good: Cam Atkinson got the raw end of the deal ahead of the 2017 All-Star Game. At the time rosters were announced during the 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson was eighth in the NHL in points, sixth in goals and the third-highest scorer in the Metropolitan Division. He was left off the roster. Of course, he eventually made his way to the game after Evgeni Malkin fell injured, but it was clear that a lack of name recognition cost a deserving player his spot. Not this time, though. Atkinson, who is having himself a tremendous season, is heading to the game as part of the initial roster.
The Bad: Maybe it’s more like The Unfortunate, really. We would have loved to see another Ovechkin appearance at all-star weekend, but the fan-voted captain is choosing to rest up instead of attend the showcase in San Jose. But that’s truly the only disappointing thing about the players who made the cut. It’s awfully tough to argue with any one selection, and Ovechkin’s absence did allow for a player such as Atkinson to make the initial roster.
The Omission: Who’s to say why Artemi Panarin isn’t on the roster and not available to be selected in the Last Man In vote, but he’s missing from both lists. The Blue Jackets winger has been outstanding this season and he’s a joy to watch. He’s shown a fun-loving side to his game, too, so he could have been a nice addition to the game.
Last Man In: Solely considering overall production, Nicklas Backstrom would be the pick, but a few things to consider: the Metropolitan is set to send just two defensemen, the red-hot Penguins are set to send only one player and Kris Letang is the second-highest scoring blueliner in the division and sixth-highest scoring rearguard in the league. He’s also expressed a willingness to go, which is an added bonus.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche*
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Last Man In Candidates
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
The Good: It really felt as though Wheeler was going to get passed over by process of elimination, but the Jets captain made the cut. He really has earned his spot, too. Not only has Wheeler been excellent this season in Winnipeg, he’s sneakily found his spot among the game’s top point producers. Across 2018, only seven players put up more points than Wheeler, who registered 17 goals and an NHL-best 78 assists over the past calendar year.
The Bad: Not to be too Jets heavy, but the bad has less to do with the selections and more to do with the injury that felled Winnipeg blueliner Dustin Byfuglien. He’s the Central Division’s top-scoring defenseman, has definite personality and can bring the heat in the Hardest Shot competition. Though, Byfuglien’s injury likely opened the door for Wheeler, so maybe there’s the slightest silver lining there as far as the all-star roster is concerned.
The Omission: What does Mikael Granlund have to do to get some respect? Nothing against Zach Parise, who is a great choice to represent the Wild should he win the Last Man In balloting, but Granlund’s 11-goal, 37-point campaign makes him Minnesota’s leading scorer and he’s one heck of a player who could use a platform like the All-Star Game to really showcase his talent to the rest of the league. Over the past 12 months, Granlund has scored as many points as Seguin, and more than Landeskog, Laine, Toews and Tarasenko.
Last Man In: This feels like another instance where the ballot box will get stuffed by Blackhawks fans and result in Jonathan Toews earning another nod. However, the best choice might be Gabriel Landeskog. He’s sixth in points in the Central Division, 19th in the NHL and he’s one-third of the most dominant offensive line in hockey right now. Send him to the game alongside MacKinnon and Rantanen and let that line stick together during the 3-on-3 tournament.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers*
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Last Man In Candidates
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
The Good: There has seemingly been a hesitance at times from the NHL to shotgun rookies into all-star weekend. For what reason, who knows. But the league didn’t need any prodding to put Elias Pettersson front-and-center at the showcase. The Canucks rookie has turned heads with his play through the early part of the campaign and he put a giant stamp on his selection to the roster Wednesday with his first career hat trick. Give him about a dozen breakaways and let’s see what he can pull off.
The Bad: It makes sense that the game is going to be Sharks-heavy. It’s in San Jose, after all. But thrusting Karlsson onto the roster over a franchise mainstay and fan favorite such as Logan Couture seems an odd move. Karlsson would have been a perfect addition to the Last Man In ballot and he very well could have won that vote. He’s popular enough, to be sure. Couture, though, might have a tougher time getting onto the roster. That’s not to mention Karlsson’s selection also relegates Giordano, the division’s highest-scoring defenseman, to the Last Man In ballot instead.
The Omission: Sean Monahan has 22 goals, 50 points and is fourth in the Pacific Division in scoring. Draisaitl has 22 goals, 51 points and is third in the Pacific Division. The former isn’t on the roster or even the Last Man In ballot — again, because Karlsson takes up a spot on the blueline that pushes Giordano into the fan vote — while the latter is. It’s a tough exclusion for the other half of the Flames’ dynamic duo.
Last Man In: Fans can’t go wrong with Giordano, Couture or Draisaitl. All would be excellent choices. The money pick has to be Couture, though. Plays for the hometown team? Check. Top-scoring forward on said team? Check. Top-10 scorer in the division? Check. He fits the bill, and why not load the roster up with as many Sharks as possible? The All-Star Game is an event for the fans in attendance. They’ll love cheering on Couture.