The NHL opened up voting for the 2018 All-Star Game on Saturday. The event will take place the weekend of Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. As usual, Saturday night will be all about the Skills Competition, while Sunday will mark the third straight year the league goes with the 3-on-3 divisional tournament format.
Voting, you’ll remember, is only for the four captains representing each division and runs through Jan. 1. The remaining All-Stars will be named some time next month.
So with the All-Star Game on the mind, we decided to take it upon ourselves and help the NHL come up with their four captains. There won’t be any John Scott-type fun this year, unless the NHL agrees to change the Metropolitan Division jerseys to feature Ryan Reaves’ awesome Phil Kessel shirt.
In the meantime, here’s what we’re going with…
Sean Leahy: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: This one is pretty automatic. The event is in Tampa. The Lightning are ridiculous. Stamkos is the local captain. He’s going to get the loudest cheers of the weekend with Nikita Kucherov coming in a close second.
Joey Alfieri: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s hard not to root for Stamkos after all the injuries and health scares he’s gone through over the last couple of years. The Bolts captain has had an impressive season so far with 37 points in 26 games, but what’s even more remarkable is that he’s gone from sniper to set-up guy. He might not have a ton of personality, but he’s a feel-good story. Also, the All-Star game is being held in Tampa.
Adam Gretz: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov has more goals and more points, but Stamkos has been the face of the Lightning organization for a decade, the game is in Tampa, and now that Stamkos is finally back healthy again we are being reminded as to just how great of a player he is. A huge portion of his prime years have been taken away. He is back.
James O’Brien: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Kucherov is way too important to the Lightning’s top pairing alongside Stamkos to be the Robin to Stamkos’ Batman, but he’s certainly paid that way. Hardcore fans know (or hopefully, are starting to truly realize) how great Kucherov is. Mainstream fans might not, so maybe this could be a beacon for them, at least before Kucherov starts collecting hardware at the NHL Awards?
This honor pretty much has to go to a Lightning player since the event is in Tampa, but it’s nice that it’s also warranted.
Leahy: Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: Remember, this is a weekend about fun, not super serious hockey. Tavares, Crosby, Kessel, Ovechkin, Bobrovsky… There sure are a handful of solid choices in the Metro, but Boyle’s a great choice here because of how he worked his way back after an early season battle with leukemia and how he’s performed since returning to the ice (4 goals, 6 points in 16 games). Plus, he has personality, which is something that is supposed to shine during All-Star Weekend.
Alfieri: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: I know Kessel isn’t a fan of interviews and being in the spotlight, but hear me out on this one. Kessel plays in the game, while teammate (and resident prankster) Reaves is running around in Kessel-inspired t-shirts playing jokes on him. I seriously believe that would add another layer of entertainment to the weekend’s festivities. If you want Reaves to play in the game, I’m not opposed to it.
Gretz: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: He has been the best player on a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion, plus everybody seems to love him. Seems like a perfect fit for what the All-Star game is supposed to be about: A deserving player that is a fan favorite.
O’Brien: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: As of this writing, Kessel is the division’s most prolific point producer. This honor serves to right the wrong (the hilarious wrong, but a wrong nonetheless) of Kessel being selected last in the 2011 All-Star fantasy draft. And, really, it must be emphasized over and over that he’s a great player, full-stop. It’s OK if his captain’s ‘C’ is actually one of those hot dogs that curls, turned to the side.
(Honorable mention: Taylor Hall, who deserves to be thought of as more than just a lucky rabbit’s foot for the draft lottery.)
Leahy: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: The St. Louis trio of Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are certainly deserving, but Wheeler’s been a beast so far with 35 points in 27 games. He’s been a consistent producer since his first full season in Winnipeg, so this would be a great chance for him to get some more (deserving) love.
Alfieri: Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars: I fully realize I’m going off the board with this pick, but let me explain. I got to cover Radulov a little bit while he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens last season. The guy is funny (he kept referring to Carey Price as “Corey” without even realizing it), he has personality and he’s having a pretty good season in 2017-18. He might not get the national coverage that some of the other players in the division get, but he’d add some life to All-Star weekend.
Gretz: Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are finally, for the first time in their existence, a really good hockey team that has a promising core of impact players to build around. Scheifele has become one of the focal points of that group and has quietly been one of the best offensive players in the league for three years now. Give him his due.
O’Brien: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Yes, Schwartz and Schenn have the sexier totals so far this season, but Tarasenko is the guy I’m most confident about when it comes to sustained star play. “The Tank” really isn’t far behind Alex Ovechkin as far as sniping goes, and this honor stands as a testament to that notion.
Leahy: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid will definitely be in Tampa, regardless. They’re having strong seasons. While the NHL tries to get one player from each team involved, who’s to say they don’t go with Drew Doughty for LA? Kopitar is back to being the dominant force we remember and has bounced back with 14 goals and 31 points in 28 games. As an added bonus, he might even bring his awesome pup Gustl to the festivities.
Alfieri: Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights: How can you not go with a Golden Knight here? Marchessault has had a terrific season for the expansion side. He somehow put up a point-per-game in the first quarter of the season, and giving Vegas some more exposure would definitely be a good thing for the team and league. Maybe the team’s Twitter account has rubbed off on him a bit (not too much though).
Gretz: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers for the most part stink. Mismanagement from up top has put a lousy team around the franchise player and they are by far the biggest disappointment in the league this season. That does not mean that Connor McDavid isn’t still the best player in the league.
O’Brien: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Don’t let his hapless team fool you; McDavid is still the best player in the world. Plus he’s been willing to be at least funny-adjacent lately.