The NHL can be a bit of a Mickey Mouse league at times. Their approach to picking players for their All-Star Game is a great example of that. First of all, they recently decided that NHL players wouldn’t get to play the Olympics. The best on best Olympic Tournament is something a lot NHL fans love, and something they’ve been denied since 2014 (the NHL also didn’t send their players to the 2018 Olympics). You’d think that would make them want an All-Star Game that features all the truly best players in the world, right? Wrong! Let’s take a look at everything that’s foolish about the NHL’s selection process.
Flaw #1: Fairness Amongst Divisions
The NHL divides the All-Star Game players into their four divisions, so each division has the exact same amount of guys picked. That means each division has the same amount of players and the same amount of goalies. Here’s the problem- not every division is going to have the same amount of All-Star-caliber guys at each position. In the Metropolitan, for example, there are three of the best goalies in the league this season- Frederik Andersen, Tristan Jarry, and Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin may very well be the favourite for the Vezina with a ridiculous .939 save percentage (best the league), but he was the odd man out of this trio for the All-Star game, and instead, you have the likes of Cam Talbot (24th in sv%) and John Gibson (14th in sv%) making the game, because of the silly requirement that each division is represented fairly.
Now in fairness, if they were using the East-West format, you’d still have to leave out some deserving goalies since most of the top goalies play in the East this season. The point is, you do give a better chance for legitimate All-Stars in your All-Star Game the more open your All-Star Selection process is. Dividing into East and West closes opportunities for some guys, but dividing even further by division makes it even harder for guys who play in a division stacked a certain position. For example, imagine the NFL had a rule of one Pro Bowl QB from every division. They’d be forced to leave off either Herbert or Mahomes in favour of some random AFC South QB.
Flaw #2: Neglecting Defensemen
In a typical All-Star game with two teams, you’d expect 12 d-men to be picked, 6 for each team. Instead, the NHL took a bunch of extra forwards. Since their format for the game is a 3 on 3 tournament, they likely thought that position wasn’t as important. Instead of 12 d-men, they picked just 7, an absolute slap to the face of all d-men! Somehow, this game has more goalies (8), then defensemen. Roman Josi leads his team in points, he’s over a point per game, he’s a Norris contender, but his division has only one d-man represented (Cale Makar).
Aaron Ekblad is 5th amongst d-men in points on the best team in hockey. His Panthers were only granted one All- Star (Jonathan Huberdeau) and Ekblad didn’t even get on the “Last Man in Ballot” because every team only gets one guy on that ballot and Florida’s spot went to Aleksander Barkov. Ekblad’s division has 2 d-men- Victor Hedman, who was an obvious choice, and Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres, because the Sabres need a guy in the game despite being a horrible hockey team. That brings me to my 3rd and most obvious flaw.
Flaw #3: Needing an All-Star from Every Team
The game being called an All-Star Game would make you think that the league would pick the best players. Makes sense, right? Instead, they push for “fairness” by making sure every team has at least one player in the game. That means you have stacked teams like the Colorado Avalanche who don’t get to send the NHL’s fifth leading scorer, Nazem Kadri, because the lowly Arizona Coyotes need to send Clayton Keller, who sits 75th in the league in points! Of the NHL’s top 24 scoring forwards, 12 of them did not make the initial All Star Game Roster (this includes Steven Stamkos and Brad Marchand). Of the top 12 d-men in scoring, 9 did not make the roster. Of the top 8 goalies in save percentage, 3 did not make the roster. Could you imagine the NBA picking some random Orlando Magic player because of “fairness”? Or the NFL taking some mediocre Jacksonville Jaguar player to try to make things “just”? No chance.
Nathan MacKinnon Speaks Up
It’s one thing for some random no-name blogger like myself to complain, but how about one of the league’s best players fighting back against the NHL’s ridiculous All-Star Selection process? Here’s what MacKinnon thinks about it:
Look, the NHL All-Star Game is never that great. It’s hard to get full effort out of players in what’s really just an exhibition game. The NBA and NFL have the same issues with their game. You’ll always see these leagues try different formats and ways to make it more competitive, but most of the time, the game is lacking in both defense and effort. What the NBA and NFL don’t do, is limit the amount of actual All-Stars who are originally selected to the game. The NHL needs to follow their lead- maybe the game itself won’t be great, but at least try to pick the guys who truly deserve to be there. Guys like Adrian Kempe, Jordan Eberle and Nick Suzuki, among some other mentioned earlier, have no claims to be in this game over the likes of Marchand, Stamkos, Kadri, Josi and Ekblad. Maybe we need a hashtag to get this going. How about #PutActualAllStarsInTheAllStarGame. A little wordy but you get the point.