The new All-Star Game format is an exciting one, and it's actually a case of the NHL listening to its fans.
The long-held opinion and correct opinion on the Game itself, from basically all corners, was that it sucked. Games ending in scores that rival defensive struggles on the football field aren't necessarily fun to watch just because they have a ton of goals in them, and a big reason for that is the intensity of these games come in at negative-193,856 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Never mind the fact that everyone is skating off a hangover.
The Skills Competition is fun, and it's staying. The All-Star Draft is too fun and it's gone. But the League has done more to ensure that the game will be free-flowing and intense with this format, because the winning 11-player team gets to split $1 million.
Now, I find it difficult to root for Jonathan Toews or PK Subban to pull an extra $91,000 for winning a couple of 3-on-3 games. However, you can bet the players themselves will be playing pretty hard to win. We might — and this is a big “might” here — see a check thrown in one of these games.
There are a few other important things to keep in mind here, too. First, the fans' vote only picks four of the 44 players that will be playing in the game, one from each division. Second, the NHL seems to be doing away with the mandatory “every team is represented” rule, which is fine because who wants a player from Toronto in the All-Star Game this year? It will instead simply try to get all 30 represented, and if it doesn't, oh well.
This seems reasonable.
So the big question will be who should actually play in this game. Right now, just based on the level of talent amassed in the Central, picking only 11 players (six forwards, three D, two goalies) from it will probably be quite difficult. Likewise, it feels as though picking that many players from, say, the Atlantic or Pacific isn't going to be easy. It creates one of those “Canada At The Olympics” problems where the Central's B team could probably still win the whole thing too.
When it comes to who should make it, though, the format change shakes things up a bit. Now guys who excel at 5-on-5 for reasons other than putting the puck in the net and who should 100 percent be All-Stars under previous circumstances now might not be the best candidates.
With this in mind, I attempted to put together an admittedly early look at the kinds of players we “should” want to see in these games. Points don't necessarily matter too much here, but they obviously help; what I'd be more interested to see is who can generate the most shot attempts, shots on goal, and high-quality chances at 5-on-5, because that's a skill that seems to lend itself well to scoring at 3-on-3. Frankly, we don't have enough of a sample at 3-on-3 yet to determine just how good individual players are at it, statistically speaking. We can hazard guesses and certainly the eye test plays a big role at this point, but for example, Erik Karlsson hasn't been that good at 3-on-3, and given what he's good at, that's something you can't expect to last no matter how much he hates the overtime rules.
Now, most of the guys listed below are pretty self-explanatory, but it turns out that it's because they're really good at things that keep the game exciting, like scoring goals and creating scoring chances. (These numbers are based on both last season and this young one, but I leaned toward production this year for obvious reasons.) And like the NHL, I tried to justify putting one guy from every team, but didn't always get there.
As for the goalies, I just picked the guys who felt the most “All-Star”-y, because goalies are going to matter almost not at all in a 3-on-3 tournament with this much skill.
Let's start with the Pacific, which actually has a way better team than I would have expected:
Now obviously the guy who stands out as not deserving to be there, statistically, is Gaudreau. Jiri Hudler had better numbers than him overall from his own team. But this is where the “fun” factor comes into it for me; Gaudreau is a guy who gets you out of your seat more than Hudler ever could, and also he leads the Flames in scoring this year.
Sorry to Drew Doughty and Mark Giordano, who are better all-around defensemen than the three picked, but again, we're going for offense here.
As for the goalies, well, the pickings were very, very slim in this division. Thankfully it probably won't matter at all.
Now let's move onto the Atlantic, just to cover both oceans first:
This was also tough, because Buffalo had no real candidates, so I picked Eichel because of who he is. In addition, it stinks to leave off Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, but look what Dylan Larkin is doing so far this season. As for the defense, well, that's self-explanatory. And while Price is the obvious choice in net, I chose Luongo because he's been good this season, and Florida needed a representative.
Toronto, meanwhile, goes unrepresented, because they don't deserve it this year.
On, now, to the Metro, where there are a lot of good players from which to choose, even if the stats don't necessarily show it yet:
You hate to leave off Sid Crosby, but it's not been a good season for him at all. As for Voracek, well, “he wasn't undeserving” is the nicest way I can put it without saying, “I left off better players to squeeze one in from a major market.” And look at Brandon Dubinsky being one of the best scoring forwards in the division in the last year-plus. Who knew?
On D, the pickings weren't great, but I think this is a good group. And in net, thank god for Cory Schneider allowing me to pick someone from the Devils. The Hurricanes go unrepresented but too bad.
Finally, we have the juggernaut Central Division:
I don't know that you could put six better forwards on the ice from the entire rest of the league combined than you can the Central alone. That group is going to score a ton of goals. I put in Ehlers just because of how fun he is, and also those individual shooting numbers are impressive for a rookie.
And to give you an idea of how good the Central's D group is, there's no Shea Weber and no John Klingberg. You just can't squeeze them in. It's insane.
I squeezed Dubnyk on there because he's the missing Minnesota player and backup goalie, again, matters zero.
But just for fun, here's the Central's B team:
Yeah, that's the second-best team in the field by a pretty decent margin. Good lord why are we even having a tournament? Just give the Central the giant check right now.
Obviously this is all subject to change given injury risk, dips in production, surges ahead by players not listed here, and so on. But I think if you put these four teams out there, no one would complain. Which would be a first for All-Star weekend.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.
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