Part 1: The Ballot
This seems simple: I log on to www.nhl.com, select the best players of the 2010-11 season so far, and move on with life. Ive never been a huge proponent of All-Star games, but I do enjoy the voting and the ensuing debates about whos overrated, overachieving and who will inevitably be voted in because of popularity, not performance. I take it as a duty of mine to give the best players their due and to make sure a players agent can say my client was an All-Star during the next contract negotiation. So, who to vote for?
Lets see, Im admittedly not a stats guru and no human being can possibly watch every single game, so Ill stick with old faithful: points, plus-minus, save percentage and my perceived impact to the teams overall success. I always look for the underdog firstyou know that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin dont need extra votes, so I ask: can I make a case for someone else? Two stick out right away for me: the Capitals Alexander Semin and the Avalanches Chris Stewart. Ill just click Semins name here and....wheres Semins name? Okay, the guy was a 90 point scorer in 2006-07, but hes not here, so Ill just write him in. Now wheres Stewart, with his 25 points? Not here either. Well, as long as Kovalchuk and his 10 points and -12 in 23 games arent here. Oh wait, they are.
Im sure this ballot was made based on each teams top two or three most popular players, but why shoot yourself in the foot with blind guesses at who will be the most outstanding players? Claude Giroux is +7 with 21 points, but nowhere to be found. At least Sidney Crosby is here, I guess. Here are my votes for East and West. Or, since you dont get to vote between East and West, here are my votes:
Forward: Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay, Chris Stewart and, since I cant count both Sedins as one person, Ill go with Semin. No slight to Crosby and Ovechkinthey still rank at the topbut I like Stewarts impact on the Avs and Semins 30 points and +8 rating.
Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien is on the ballot, but Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers isnt. Not that I would have voted for Myers, but thats strange. In fact, nobody is here! The NHL gives us a mere 29 defensemen to choose from. Ill write in Lubomir Visnovsky despite him having absolutely no chance to be selectedthough I think he deserves it with 18 points, +2 rating and 25 minutes of ice time per gameand Zdeno Chara, who happens to actually be on the ballot.
Goalie: The goalie selections on the ballot will make your head spin. Six of the top ten leaders in save percentage are left off the ballot in favor of former Cup winners Marc-Andre Fleury, Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Ward and Antti Niemi. Slow starters like Ryan Miller (.914 save percentage) have a shot at being an All-Star starter based on reputation, but Sergei Bobrovsky (.926), Carey Price (.935), Brent Johnson (.931), Antero Nittymaki (.917), and Jimmy Howard (.914) dont. All-Star starters in any league will, without fail, end up being inaccurate as compared to performance, but why rig the deck?
Part 2: The Game Without The Game
Now maybe some of my write-ins will be selected by the presumed captains, Ovechkin and Crosby. That is assuming they are willing to hurt some teammates feelings. Major League Baseball managers who have the dubious honor of selecting All-Star bullpens and benches invariably end up with hurt feelings. New York Yankees fans might remember the 2000 All-Star game as Jeff Nelson, yes, reliever Jeff Nelsons All-Star snub beef with manager Joe Torre. Maybe that HBO show will catch some reality show drama between Sid and a forgotten All-Star.
The pregame drama and debate will probably be the most exciting part of the 2010-11. Watching a hockey game without physical play or emotion makes it, well, no longer hockey. I like to think it meant something in 1979 when the NHL All-Stars played the Soviet All-Star team. Maybe it was an Olympic-style exhibition, but since the Cold War, the All-Star game has been a drudgery for all.
North America vs. the World was a sloppy mess of goals, dropping 91 in five All-Star games. In 2003, East vs. West returned, but didnt change the inherent folly with the All-Star game. The same goes for this bizarre pond-hockey fantasy draft the NHL has created for the 2010-11 game. Does Ovie selecting or not selecting Mike Green really make the two want to play hard to win?
Part 3: The Solution
The NHL has the idea that the All-Star game can become a gem event. But a game that doesnt matter cant be in the same conversation as the Stanley Cup or Winter Classic. Especially since players treat the Winter Classic as a unique privilege, rather than something they have to do this weekend.
Its clear that the criteria for a good game will never be met by an All-Star game, but it can be, and should be, used as a promotional tool for the NHL. Using a gym class dodgeball type selection process doesnt actually change anything about the game. My suggestion is for the 2011-12 seasons All-Star game, to make it part of the Winter Classic. Have it be what it is: a sideshow.
Matthew Coller is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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