Monday, January 07, 2008

All-Stars: Best of the West

A little break in the schedule gives us some time to discuss the REAL Winter Classic, aka the NHL All-Star Game. It may not be real hockey or anything close, but it's one of my favorite parts of the season. Love it or hate it, it's an event that takes up the collective attention of the league for just one weekend and pits the biggest stars against one another.

The votes are tallied and although the results aren't announced until tomorrow you don't have to be Kreskin to see who will definitely be among the starting line-up. Crosby will absolutely be there; Markov seems a shoo-in as well, as do Lidstrom and Luongo. Deserving candidates, all, although the fact that Ovechkin probably didn't crack the starters is worrisome on a lot of levels.

Beyond the fan-selected starting line-up, the rest of the all-stars will be made up of representatives from each team, to be selected by the league in all their traditional wisdom. So who gets the nod? I've got my votes...we'll start with the West.

Anaheim Ducks - Easy money would be on Ryan Getzlaf being selected, but Corey Perry may sneak in there in place of or as well as Getzy. Perry's 21 goals lead a team with a rather anemic offense (think Washington production only worse) and he seems to be a clutch performer when they need him to be. Stalwart defenseman Francois Beauchemin could also be a dark horse candidate.

Calgary Flames - Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf have both been high on the balloting since day one and should get into the starting line-up for the West, no problem. But if anyone else is selected from the Flames it should be Daymond Langkow or Kristian Huselius, both of whom have had hot hands this year.

Chicago Blackhawks - With all the buzz around Patrick Kane, it's easy to overlook the other Patrick in the Windy City - but Patrick Sharp is having a breakout year in his third season, with 21 goals already (one more than his career high). Even more special is the way he's scored the goals, coming through big in all situations; he has 6 power play markers, 7 shorthanded, and 5 game winners. Of course Kane wouldn't be a bad choice, either.

Colorado Avalanche - Usually this would be an easy one - put Sakic in and he'll do the rest. Sadly he's facing a potentially career-ending injury and the torch has to be passed to someone else. In that case, you really can't go wrong picking any one of the three youngsters lurking around Denver these days. Marek Svatos, Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny are all potential candidates for the show, although Stastny might be relegated to the Young Stars Game despite being Colorado's leading scorer.

Columbus Blue Jackets - It didn't look like he was getting the respect he deserved from All-Star voters, but Pascal Leclaire is having a dream season for the Blue Jackets and should definitely be in. His seven shutouts lead the league and his performance is a big reason why the Blue Jackets are eyeing the playoffs for the first time in their young history.

Dallas Stars - Mike Ribeiro is undergoing some sort of rebirth in Dallas and is the Stars' leading scorer, besting his career high in goals with every tally. He'd fit the bill perfectly, as would Dallas captain Brenden Morrow.

Detroit Red Wings - It's comforting to see that Chris Chelios didn't even make the ballot this year, but it's less comforting to see that Dominik Hasek did. Disregarding the geriatrics (and the sure bets in future hall of famer Lidstrom and the Eurotwins, Zetterberg and Datsyuk), Detroit has tons of talent - you don't get to be the best team in the league without it. Tomas Holmstrom and Chris Osgood should be in the discussion for sure, though.

Edmonton Oilers - Edmonton perpetually seems like the Capitals of the West - overlooked, underappreciated and ignored, scrappy, feisty bottom-dwellers...if it wasn't for all those Stanley Cups in the 80s they could be twins. So it's no wonder that their stars don't get any respect, and Ales Hemsky is the biggest star you're not watching right now. Shootout prowess aside, just sit down and watch this kid skate sometime. Poetry.

Los Angeles Kings - There's not a lot going right for the Kings right now, but they've got a good young crop of players that in the coming years are going to be turning heads on a more regular basis. It's hard to see beyond superstar Slovenian Anze Kopitar (who should definitely be a candidate) but Mike Cammalleri should get a look as well.

Minnesota Wild - You don't score five goals in a game and fade into the backdrop; Marian Gaborik should be the hands-down favorite to represent the Wild, although goalie Niklas Backstrom continues to put up big numbers and could fight off the other goalies in the West to crack the lineup as well.

Nashville Predators - Nashville gets really tricky because after last year a lot of their big names left town like rats deserting a sinking ship. The jokes on them because the Preds don't appear to be moving anywhere after all, but that still leaves the team with a lack of starpower. Jason Arnott should probably get the nod for being consistently good and for being a +10 on a team that lets in quite a few goals.

Phoenix Coyotes - Ed Jovanovski is one of those players who every few year seems to reemerge despite his "veteran" status and he's doing it again this year, with 25 points - 22 of them assists. That -9 isn't so pretty but it's the all-star game. No one cares about defense. If he's not in it could also be Ilya Bryzgalov who seems to be enjoying his role as the lone starting goalie for a change...

San Jose Sharks - At the last vote update from the NHL, Joe Thornton was leading his SJ teammate Jonathan Cheechoo by just about 6,000 votes - there is no clearer sign that sometimes the voters are a little bit insane, since the difference between the two this year is great. Thornton continues to be an elite playmaker while Cheechoo has slumped immensely; his measly 11 points are nowhere near what he put up last year and he's even trailing two defensemen in team scoring. Even Jeremy Roenick (who also leads Cheech in the points department) deserves it more than him.

St. Louis Blues - After a rookie season that put him among the ranks of "the next big thing", Brad Boyes saw his production decline and eventually ended up on his way out of Boston. He's on pace for a career year this season, though, and should definitely be on the list alongside the likes of Paul Kariya.

Vancouver Canucks - Good ol' Bobby Lou is in for sure, but it's a toss-up as to whether anyone else will get the nod from the Canucks. One or both of the Sedin twins would probably be considered, as they're sitting one and two atop the Vancouver scoring race (Henrik is #1 with two more points, Daniel has more goals). Markus Naslund could be another dark horse, although admittedly this season and the few before this have been disappointing for the captain.

Next up...the East

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Blah blah blah, talky hands. The AHL All-Star with Canada and Planet USA... now THAT I'm paying attention to.

Is anyone even gonna broadcast the all-star game? Like for the rest of us chumps that can't afford any NHL-based TV?