Selecting players for the NHL All-Star Game is a difficult task. There are many great players in this league, and only 42 roster spots to fill. Many factors must be taken into account when deciding who gets to play in an All-Star Game: statistics, character and consistency (just to name a few).
This year’s All Stars were determined by a combination of fan voting and the NHL Hockey Operations Department. Often times with fan voting, players are picked based on popularity over performance. Many people, including myself, oppose the fan voting system. Leaving the decision-making to a large population who all have individual biases prevents an accurate selection of players.
It is natural for one to want to pick their favorites, even if it isn’t the best choice. But the fans cannot be blamed for this; rather it is the fault of the league for bestowing a portion of the power to the public. It is unfair to the players who truly deserve to play in the All-Star Game to be left out because they lack popularity amongst the fans.
While the game itself is relatively unimportant, the honor of being named an All Star is something that a player would never forget. If a young man is truly worthy of this honor, it should be given to him.
The following is a list of players who have had All Star caliber seasons thus far, but will be watching the game from home. Not every player on this list is necessarily a “snub,” but someone who has played at the level required to compete this Sunday night in Raleigh.
Mike Richards Forward, Philadelphia
After leading his team to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, Richards has followed up his stellar post-season performance with an exceptional first half in 2010-11. His 47 points rank 13th in the league, higher than many players who made the All Star roster.
The 25 year-old center also has three short handed goals, good for second in the league. Richards’ plus-14 rating exemplifies his strong two-way play, proving he is more than an just offensive threat. Philly’s captain also brings leadership to the table, as seen last spring when he led the seventh seeded Flyers all the way to the Finals.
John-Michael Liles Defenseman, Colorado
Liles has been one of the most underappreciated players in the league thus far in the 2010-11 season, providing strong defense and offensive spark to the up-and-coming Colorado Avalanche. Liles is seventh amongst defensemen in points (35) and provides consistent play on a struggling defense. Even though the Avalanche have the worst goals against per game(3.30),
Liles remains a plus-5, supplying consistency on the blueline for a team that desperately needs it. Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild has 31 points with a minus-3 and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has 28 points and is a minus-27 on the year. Despite their inferior statistics compared to Liles, both Burns and Karlsson made the All Star roster.
Ondrej Pavelec Goaltender, Atlanta
Since recovering from his collapse on the ice 2:35 into the opening game of the season, Pavelec has been one of the most valuable player for the Atlanta Thrashers. Since returning to action on October 30th, the Czech goaltender has played the best hockey of his career.
While Pavelec’s 2.44 GAA is middle-of-the-road, his save percentage stands at .927, good for third in the entire NHL. While the 23 year-old’s GAA and record (17-12-2) may not be extraordinary, one must take into account the team he is playing for. The Thrashers give up 34.4 shots on goal per game, tied for last in the league.
Despite the questionable defense in front of him, Pavelec has played exceptionally well throughout the season, and deserves a spot on the All Star roster. Carey Price made the cut despite having a .920 save percentage, seven points below Pavelec. Cam Ward was selected to play in the All-Star Game in his hometown, even with a .920 save percentage and 2.70 GAA.
Lubomir Visnovsky Defenseman, Anaheim
The veteran defenseman has played a vital role in the Ducks’ turnaround this year. His 35 assists are good for eighth in the league and are second most amongst defensemen. The 34 year-old Russian is also second in defensemen in points (43), only trailing Keith Yandle by one. The Ducks are currently second in the league on the man advantage (24.4%) and Visnovsky is a big reason why they have been so successful.
Pekka Rinne Goaltender, Nashville
The Predators have been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past several weeks, and Pekka Rinne has been a big part of his team’s success. The Preds recently won nine out of ten games, and Rinne was in net for all of them.
It’s hard to argue the stats: the Finnish goalie is second in the league in GAA (2.11) and save percentage (.929). Save percentage and GAA are no doubt the two most important stats in revealing just how well a goaltender is playing. Based on the numbers, Rinne should be playing this Sunday in Raleigh.
Henrik Zetterberg Forward, Detroit
When news broke that Henrik Zetterberg was left off the All Star roster, it left many members of the hockey world in shock. Detroit’s leading scorer is currently seventh in the league in points (53) and is tied for third in assists (37).
There have been reports circulating that Zetterberg asked not to be included on the All Star team so he could mend an injury, but this has yet to be confirmed. Since the Swedish winger is currently on pace for 87 points, this remains the only logical explanation for his absence.
Several players who have played extraordinarily well this season didn’t make this list. Roberto Luongo may be the first to come to mind. While the Canuck goaltender has led his team to the best record in the NHL at the All Star break, his individual performance has not been as good as Pavelec and Rinne. Luongo’s numbers do not match up, and he plays on far superior teams than the two goalies previously mentioned.
On Sunday, millions of hockey fans will tune in to watch some of the best players in the world compete in a friendly game that will have no impact on the regular season. These athletes will garner all the attention this weekend, and most of them deserve the spotlight. But we must not let the All Star game skew our perceptions of who truly are the best players in this league.
Just because one man will be playing on Sunday does not necessarily make him better than one of his competitors who will watch from home. Because of fan voting, the “All Star” label does not hold as much significance or validity as it could if the system was corrected.
While this game is mostly for the fans, the league does not owe the public the right to choose the players. This isn’t a presidential election, it’s just an All Star game. It is only fair to ensure that those who deserve to play have the opportunity to do so.