Yes, there are ways to enhance the NHL All-Star Game, including ways to cut down on “snubs.”
Truly, the league could pursue fun, entertainment, and … if they have time left over, a fair representation of each season’s NHL All-Stars. In a dream world, there would still be those messy, almost certainly drunken “fantasy draft” exercises to divide up teams. Maybe we could all even embrace the reality that “The Skills Competition” has been better than each All-Star Game since … (runs out of fingers to count with)?
But the bottom line is that all of the camouflage and flourishes can’t obscure the deeper reality that the 2022 NHL All-Star Game can only be so enthralling. It’s ultimately an exhibition for sponsors and fans (especially young ones).
If anything, it’s best to embrace the salty spirit of NHL All-Star snubs. Thanks to Nathan MacKinnon, we got at least a dash of that.
MacKinnon, Marchand on 2022 NHL All-Star Game snubs
One thing that validates the existence of NHL All-Star Games is that, when they happen, they can serve as neat time capsules.
For every Rory Fitzpatrick fan-voted surge that gets spiked, there’s the occasional John Scott All-Star Game show-stealer. In the case of the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, there was a chance to celebrate a shockingly strong season from Nazem Kadri.
When Kadri hasn’t been making waves with terrible playoff suspensions, he’s often been an underrated player. Yet, even those who noticed his sneaky-good work didn’t expect him to rank fourth in scoring with 48 points. This could’ve been a chance to remember it in a “formal” way.
[Check out the 2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters here]
But, there simply wasn’t room for Kadri, and that bothered Avalanche teammate Nathan MacKinnon.
“It’s silly. I don’t think every team should send a guy,” MacKinnon said, via Peter Baugh of The Athletic. ” … It’s an All-Star Game, not a Participation Game.”
Can we dock MacKinnon a point off the bat for referencing every crusty person on earth complaining about “participation medals?”
Anyway, MacKinnon has a point about how strenuous it can be to try to fill out rosters while including at least one player from the lowliest NHL teams.
[Seriously, it was tough to thread the needle under the league’s current format]
That said, his most prescient point was unintentional: again, the 2022 NHL All-Star Game, and snub talk … “it’s silly.”
Like it or not, NHL fans do want to see their teams represented, at least more often than not. We also shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room: players often decide to skip out on the NHL All-Star Game, anyway. Sometimes even if it means getting suspended.
Add in the additional risk of players convening during the age of COVID, and you wonder if Brad Marchand and others aren’t exactly heartbroken about missing the 2022 NHL All-Star Game.
Brad Marchand on his All-Star snub: “I’m not bothered at all. It’s a nice event to go to. … But Bergy’s been our best player for whatever it’s been, 18 years now. … That’s how it goes with the league format the way it is.”
Mentions Nazem Kadri as another major snub.
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin9) January 14, 2022
2022 NHL All-Star Game: Who should be ‘Last Men In?’
While by no means comprehensive, the league seized on the spirit of snub debates by letting fans vote on “The Last Men In” for the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. Voters can submit ballots here until Jan . 17.
Being that fans can submit “up to 10 ballots every 24 hours,” let’s try to gauge who should be “The Last Men In” in our own, PHT way. That’s with polls and some quick analysis.
Boston Bruins — Charlie McAvoy
Buffalo Sabres — Tage Thompson
Detroit Red Wings — Lucas Raymond
Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov
Montreal Canadiens — Tyler Toffoli
Ottawa Senators — Brady Tkachuk
Tampa Bay Lightning — Steven Stamkos
Toronto Maple Leafs — John Tavares
My pick: Steven Stamkos
Sheesh, isn’t it enough that Steven Stamkos still didn’t get to go to the Olympics? Let’s provide some solace in the form of an All-Star nod. Best yet, Stamkos very much deserves it. After the Lightning basically won a Stanley Cup without him, it seemed like Stammer’s best days were behind him. It was even plausible to trade him for salary cap space.
Yet, this season, he’s been brilliant. Most obviously, Stamkos ranks sixth in scoring with 45 points.
As nice as it would be for Charlie McAvoy to get more mainstream attention, or for Brady Tkachuk to get a chance to be a goofball on a national stage, Stamkos is the pick.
Carolina Hurricanes — Andrei Svechnikov
Columbus Blue Jackets — Jakub Voracek
New Jersey Devils — Jesper Bratt
New York Islanders — Mathew Barzal
New York Rangers — Mika Zibanejad
Philadelphia Flyers — Cam Atkinson
Pittsburgh Penguins — Jake Guentzel
Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov
My pick: Jake Guentzel
Hopefully, this serves as a reminder that Jake Guentzel isn’t just some player who lives off of Sidney Crosby. Don’t get me wrong; Crosby enhances Guentzel’s play, but the underrated Penguins forward is brilliant in his own right. Stylistically, it would’ve been refreshing to see Mathew Barzal run free in an All-Star environment, but Guentzel’s the fair choice.
Arizona Coyotes — Phil Kessel
Chicago Blackhawks — Seth Jones
Colorado Avalanche — Nazem Kadri
Dallas Stars — Jason Robertson
Minnesota Wild — Ryan Hartman
Nashville Predators — Roman Josi
St. Louis Blues — Robert Thomas
Winnipeg Jets — Mark Scheifele
My pick: Nazem Kadri
All of that talk about Nazem Kadri being an All-Star snub and … phew, it sure was close between him and Roman Josi.
Kadri has the substance to earn the Central Division “Last Men In” nod. There’s also the style, too. The novelty of a good but rarely heralded player beating a Norris Trophy winner feels just right.
(Just stop delivering bad hits, please, Kadri.)
Anaheim Ducks — Troy Terry
Calgary Flames — Matthew Tkachuk
Edmonton Oilers — Darnell Nurse
Los Angeles Kings — Drew Doughty
San Jose Sharks — Logan Couture
Seattle Kraken — Mark Giordano
Vancouver Canucks — J.T. Miller
Vegas Golden Knights — Jonathan Marchessault
My pick: Troy Terry
At minimum, each “Last Men In” pick has at least one really tough matchup. In the Pacific Division’s case, I struggled between Troy Terry and Matthew Tkachuk.
Between that stunning point streak, and just how fun the Ducks have been, Terry gets the edge. That said, maybe we can just make sure the Tkachuk brothers can attend the 2022 NHL All-Star Game anyway? Have some sibling skills competitions?
Anyway, which players would you add to the 2022 NHL All-Star Game rosters? And do you have any snubs to get off your chest? Do tell, and do vote.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.