Come Friday, the NHL hopes to lock in the all-star rosters for the showcase weekend in San Jose. But before they can do that, fans need to put the finishing touches on each of the divisional squads.
Over the past week, fans have been voting for what the NHL has dubbed the “Last Man In,” which is the fan-powered selection of the final player who will round out the teams from the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. Voting comes to a head on Thursday night, however, so let’s break down who’s eligible and which four players should round out their respective divisional rosters:
On the ballot: 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
Last Man In: Well, we should all hope it’s not Bergeron, as he’s publicly stated that he doesn’t want the votes and would prefer to stay home with his newborn son. So, while that doesn’t remove him from the list, one would imagine Bruins fans who had been throwing votes his way would pull up. That still leaves seven options, though, and as with most ballots, you can make an argument for just about anyone listed.
Seriously, just look at the list: Skinner has the goals, Rielly is a Norris Trophy frontrunner and Barkov is a two-way dynamo with an incredible level of skill. Weber has the bomb, Larkin has the speed and Stone… uh, maybe they can add a takeaway event to the skills competition this time. But the spot should go to Point, who is having yet another exceptional season and deserves the recognition and a platform to show his stuff. There are only six players in the NHL with more points, only four with more goals and Point is a brilliant defensive player who is going to be a leader for the Lightning for years to come.
(Somehow, though, you get the feeling Rielly is going to get the votes to head to the game with Leafs Nation stuffing the ballot box. He’s worthy — and it’s the all-star weekend, really — so no big deal.)
On the ballot: 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
Last Man In: There are only two ways this vote should shake out, and it boils down to the tow players from rival organizations: Letang and Backstrom.
On one hand is the Penguins blueliner, who is on pace to have the most outstanding season of his career. Letang has been among the best offensive defensemen in the league since the puck dropped on the campaign, with his 10 goals the third-best mark among all rearguards and his 37 points putting him seventh in scoring among NHL blueliners. Letang is also logging monster ice time and running things for Pittsburgh at upwards of 26 minutes per night.
But on the other is Backstrom, who is perpetually among the most overlooked pivots in the game and, on a league-wide basis, lives in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals first-line center has racked up an impressive 10 goals and 44 points in 41 games, is the eighth-highest scoring player in the entire Metropolitan Division and is one of the best playmakers of his generation. Seriously, he has more assists than any other player in the NHL since his debut in 2007-08. That’s the kind of talent that would dazzle at an All-Star Game.
So, who goes? It’s a toss up, but let’s say Letang gets the nod. He deserves it and he’s expressed a desire to go to the game.
On the ballot: 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
Last Man In: The interest in sending someone such as Patrik Laine, just to get that shot into the three-on-three competition or the accuracy drill, is understandable. It makes sense, too, that a fan favorite like Tyler Seguin or Jonathan Toews would earn a spot on the roster. But there’s only one “right” choice for the showcase in San Jose, and that’s Gabriel Landeskog.
Yes, the Avalanche are currently mired in a slump, and yes, Landeskog’s game may not be as flashy as others listed, but there’s something intriguing about sending a full line to the All-Star Game. There’s something that much more intriguing, too, when it’s arguably the best line in hockey.
Throughout the season, the Avalanche trio of Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have torched the opposition and their combined 73 goals accounts for nearly half of the total offense in Colorado this season. MacKinnon and Rantanen have already punched their tickets to all-star weekend, but the need for representatives from each team limited the Avalanche’s spots in the forward group to two. Fans should step up and give those final votes to Landeskog and send him to the game. Who doesn’t want to see these three team up in the 3-on-3 competition?
On the ballot: 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
Last Man In: When the Last Man In ballot was announced, I would have given the nod to Couture. The game is in San Jose and the Sharks contingent should be among the most prominent at the game. Why not add one more for some extra fanfare, right?
But with another week to think about it, voters should be doing what they can to get Giordano to the showcase. As colleague Ryan Kennedy outlined earlier, the Flames captain is among the frontrunners — if he isn’t the frontrunner — for the Norris and he’s playing absolutely lights out this season. The two-time all-star already has more points in 43 games this season than he had in either of the past two campaigns, and if he were to fall injured tomorrow, this would still be tied for the fourth-highest scoring season of his career. And he’s doing all of this at the ripe old age of 35.
Giordano has earned the nod and is incredibly worthy of the honor. That’s not to say Couture isn’t, but a trip to all-star weekend would be one more feather in the cap for a blueliner who is on pace to have the best season of his career.