The NHL All-Star Game will be played Jan. 24 in Dallas. That's less than 50 days away. So, who should represent the East and West in the skills competition and the game?
In selecting my rosters for this season's squads, I used these guidelines:
• Two-and-half-season barometer: Remember, the last time we had an All-Star
Game, ESPN was still the exclusive TV rights holder in the United States for NHL games. That's like four haircuts ago for Barry Melrose. He's waxed his back more than that over that same span. The last All-Star Game was 2004 in St. Paul, Minn. After that, we had a lockout and an Olympics. The Penguins' Jordan Staal was 15 when the last All-Star Game was played. I think we need to consider players who have had big seasons over the past few years, not just the past few months.
• The last two months: I do think a certain weight must be considered for selecting a player or two who have been red-hot just during this season. It gives the All-Star Games some relevancy. Newsworthy players give the game a good buzz, which is essential. I love a good buzz. Evgeni Malkin has buzz. He began his NHL career with 13 goals in his first 21 games. That's right around a 50-goal season if Malkin ended up playing all 82 games. Good buzz. Talented buzz. Players from high point-total teams also help frame the story of the season, and the All-Star Game is a place to do that since casual and parochial fans probably will be watching. Sabres, Ducks, Sharks, Thrashers.
• Sentimental picks: I think sentimentality should be applied in certain situations. Likeable, popular, talented, legendary players should be showcased in a game that's a catalyst to celebrate the best things about the game and its people. This category, obviously, is subjective and differs from one hoser to another.
With that being said, here are my 2007 NHL All-Star rosters, barring a 17-goal game by Jan Bulis this Saturday night in Calgary.
• Sidney Crosby-Jaromir Jagr- Brendan Shanahan
All three of these men are having outstanding seasons. Only two of them can purchase a Budweiser on a drive through in Texas. Yes, there are places in the
United States where you can pull into a garage-type business and order alcohol without getting out of your car. Texas is one of those places. The other player on this line has to get his limo driver to drive through for him and buy him a six-pack of Iron City Light.
I want to see Crosby and Jagr play together. They both have such amazing vision and releases. Jagr is bigger and stronger, while Crosby has more will and relentlessness. Shanahan will shoot 86 one-timers while playing with these two in the All-Star Game. On the 87th, his right arm will separate from his shoulder and strike Chris Pronger is the head. Don "Man Vassenhoven" will call Shanahan for a five-minute elbowing penalty and a game misconduct for intent to injure. Gary Bettman will say after the game the rule book always will be followed because, "the fact of the matter is, quite frankly, our great fans want that. That's what the lockout was all about. I hope that Bobby Shanahan
and Craig Pronger are OK."
• Evgeni Malkin-Alexander Ovechkin-Ilya Kovalchuk
The Vowel Line. A, E, I, O, U, and even Y, are taken care of with these incredibly exciting players. Malkin is the buzz of the NHL this season as a result of his odyssey trip to the NHL and how he has produced from his first stride for the Penguins. He still has a high curiosity factor about him.
Ovechkin or Kovalchuk probably are going to win the Maurice Richard Trophy for most regular-season goals when it's all said and done. This would also be a great All-Star line because Ovechkin and Kovalchuk want to score on every shift of every game they play in, even if it is in Brian Dennehy's driveway. One of these guys might score seven goals.
• Chris Drury-Jason Blake-Marian Hossa
I love this line. Three really good two-way players who are all having excellent seasons. As I word process this, Blake has just three fewer goals and
three fewer assists than Thomas Vanek. I say that because I'm sure you Sabres fans will e-mail in support of your boy, which is understandable. Blake had a good season in 2005-06, he can play in all situations and I'd like to see the Islanders represented. They were in on top of the Atlantic Division after beating the Rangers on Sunday night. They are a great story this season in the NHL. Islanders fans, start going to the games. You have a well-coached, hard-working team that is winning. This line represents the three first-place teams in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of this week.
• Rod Brind'Amour-Martin St. Louis-Maxim Afinogenov
Brind'Amour might be a better fit playing with Jagr and Shanahan. And Crosby might bring more out of the quick St. Louis and Afinogenov. Brind'Amour is an amazing story. If he was a baseball player, he would be accused of being on steroids, the cream, the clear, HgH and Scotts turf builder. At 36, he is on pace for his most productive season. St. Louis hasn't played in an All-Star Game since his MVP season and is off to a good start in 2006-07 as he sits within the top 10 in scoring. He has an outside shot at 50 goals and 100 points. Last season in a "down year," he was still a 30-30 player. How about this St. Louis stat -- 39 playoff games, 20 goals and 20 assists! He is also a great interview and exciting to watch. No one is more exciting on the open ice right now than Afinogenov. He has the best combination of speed and style in the NHL. He's my winner in the fastest skater competition.
• Brian Campbell-Tomas Kaberle
Campbell has earned almost all of his points in even-strength situations. That shows how good of a player he is and how good Buffalo's forwards are. Kaberle plays a lot, scores a lot and is a plus player. This is also a U.N. pairing having a Maple Leaf and a Sabre play together. I like to use a little USGA, U.S. Open golf pairing fun in my lines and defensive pairs.
• Zdeno Chara-Wade Redden
No one has played more in the NHL this season than Chara. He's actually played too much. He is a fun player to watch. He is gigantic and agile and can obliterate a puck. I know Redden and Ottawa have had an indifferent start, but Redden falls in that look-at-the-games-since-the-last-All-Star-Game category. The Senators will supplant the Maple
Leafs, Islanders or Rangers in the top 8 of the East come April. They are playing better and should improve as the season goes along, although I don't trust their GM to make the right moves.
• Sheldon Souray-Bryan McCabe
Another U.N. line with a Leaf and Hab joined arm-in-arm. These two players post most of their offense on the power play. McCabe plays a whole bunch, and I understand that is the product of a defensive corps with no depth, but he and Souray have lethal weapons with their power-play slap shots. I'd rather watch Dan Boyle and Sergei Gonchar play together in an All-Star Game, but Souray will be fun to watch during the skills competition for hardest shot.
• Ryan Miller-Martin Brodeur-Cristobal Huet
Miller is 13-2. Brodeur is launching up the record books and has a book himself to push. This might be his All-Star Game. I'm sure he'll have a book signing in Dallas for "Beyond The Crease." He's just too cool of a dude not to be at the All-Star Game. Huet has a small body of work, fewer than 100 NHL starts, and
plays on a defensive-minded team, but he does lead the league in save percentage (.937). I'm open to Kari Lehtonen here if you want.
• Joe Sakic-Teemu Selanne-Paul Kariya
The "Let's Try This Again" Line. Selanne enters the week in the Top 5 in scoring at age 36. Of the top 15 players who lead the NHL in scoring, 14 are from the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference has fallen back into the Dead Puck Era. Only Selanne cracks the Top 15 in scoring for the West. "T.S. Score-A-Lot" is a Hall of Fame player after securing his 500 goals and 1,000 points well before his 1,000th game. He has to be the most likeable player in NHL history.
Only a handful of Western Conference forwards have more points than Kariya. Nashville probably will win the Central Division and Kariya is always a great ambassador for a team and a sport. Sakic begins the week just 17 goals short of 600. If he plays next season, he'll also get his 1,000 career assist. Only 71 players have ever reached 1,000 NHL career points. The following players didn't get 1,000 career points: Maurice Richard, Rick Middleton, Dave Keon, Andy Bathgate. Only 10 players have 1,000 career assists: Gretzky, Francis, Messier, Bourque, Coffey, Oates, Howe, Yzerman, Dionne and Mario Lemieux. Sakic is a sentimental pick, but he's also actually earned a spot.
• Joe Thornton-Rick Nash-Jonathan Cheechoo
From the 30 somethings to the 20 somethings. Cheechoo is back after his leg injury, so San Jose will continue to roll in the West. I still believe San Jose will finish with the most points in the Western Conference. If Charles Barkley gave me $20,000 of his money to put on a team to win the Stanley Cup, I would take the Sharks. I don't know if they are going to win it, but I think they have the highest probability of winning considering all factors, like age, goaltending depth, home rink, cap room and stuff like that.
Nash looks kind of lost in Columbus right now. Maybe the All-Star Game can light a fire under him. His organization is obviously on the verge of change after throwing as much stuff against the wall as they could only to watch it slowly slide down like a handful of Quaker Cinnamon and Spice Oatmeal. The other night in Edmonton, Dwayne Roloson took his stick and, in Mike Tyson, old-school uppercut fashion, gave Nash's undercarriage a major "How's your father!" No one did anything. Nash lay on the ice for a while and then slowly skated to the bench. He didn't say anything to Roloson, either. Neither did any of his teammates. Nash is playing and acting like a 22-year-old making $4.5 million. Oh wait, he is 22 and he is making $4.5 million. I'll give him a pass because I like him. Blue Jackets fans paying $100 a ticket probably would like to see some more passion. If Mick Jagger can bring it every night at age 63, why can't young NHL players? In his last 157 NHL games, Nash has 79 goals. He's a big-time talent caught in a rough place. And he has a great hockey name. That's good enough for me, baby.
• Brian Rolston-Henrik Zetterberg-Jere Lehtinen
The "Versatile" Line. For the record, Lehtonen and Lehtinen spell their names differently. With the game in Dallas, Jere deserves a loud ovation for his stylish career. He is never a minus player in the regular season and he does a lot of things well. Zetterberg had a superb outing last season with 39 goals and a plus-29. He's off to a slow start this season because of the strange lack of production for the Red Wings' power play. Only once this season have the Wings scored more than one power-play goal in a game and that was Oct. 11. Zetterberg has one PPG. Minnesota is in a dreadful slide with their injuries, losing 11 of 14 games. Rolston is doing all he can. He had a big year in 2005-06, and once the Wild get healthy, he will finish with big numbers. All three of these versatile players can play wing or center.
• Mike Modano-Markus Nasland-Jarome Iginla
Modano makes the team because the game is in Dallas and because, well, just Google Willa Ford. Maybe she'll drop the ceremonial first puck and hold the pose for the entire game. Tony Romo, you're a tool, dude. Modano is the real deal in Big D and Buccigrossi says, "Don't you fagetaboutit!" Nasland is tied for eighth in goals in the West and has a body of work that falls in that category of sentimental pick. This might be the last All-Star Game for Nasland. Iginla was drafted by Dallas. He's two goals from the 300 mark and pretty much carries everything on his latissimus dorsi in Calgary. He deserves a vacation and the steak the size of Brian Gionta.
• Chris Pronger-Scott Niedermayer
Pronger is a Courtney Love beast. He's hacking and whacking again. He gets great leeway from officials and that has always been a part of greatness. He also has great patience on the power play and makes great outlet passes. Prongs plays with his head up. Teach that to your kids. Scott Niedermayer is simply everywhere. He plays hard all the time and can take over a game at will. The challenge for the Ducks is to keep his fire lit and convince him he needs to play as if Pronger isn't on the team. I thought Niedermayer had an extra edge last season, but I'm probably seeing things.
When Niedermayer won the fastest skater event at an All-Star Game a few years back, he appeared to be going half speed. I do wish he would shoot more Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom both entered the league in 1991. Since then, Lidstrom has eight seasons of at least 200 shots on goal. Niedermayer? Zero. I still believe he is the best hockey player in the NHL right now. He has talent, nastiness and an extra gear. He's my MVP.
• Nicklas Lidstrom-Sergei Zubov
Two more great, head-up players. Sometime in the future, when the Red Wings build a new arena and they build 10-foot statues of former players, they need one of Lidstrom in the lobby with Gordie and Stevie Y. His greatness can't be overstated. With the game in Dallas, I'd give Zubov one more All-Star Game. He was really good last season and is a joy to watch.
• Lubomir Visnovsky-Dion Phaneuf
Visnovsky has 89 points in his last 109 NHL games. He is a big-time offensive player and a great skater. The All-Star Game would take some of his anonymity away from him. I'm convinced if they had a backward fastest skater competition in Dallas, Phaneuf would win. As he gains more experience, he will become the best defenseman in the game. His Norris Trophy over/under is 3.5 seasons.
• Dominik Hasek-Vesa Toskala-Jean Sebastien Giguere
Hasek continues to add to his incomparable goaltending résumé. Six Vezinas, two Harts and an Olympic gold medal. His goals-against average is 1.87 right now. If he can lower that to 1.86 by season's end, it will be a career best. That's how good of a season he is having. Toskala's NHL résumé is about one season in length, but it is a great season and the Sharks deserve another player on the All-Star team. Giggy is 16-2 for crying out loud. Picking three goalies in the West is difficult because the West is back to pre-lockout offense. The standard has been dropped a bit -- did anyone see Rob Blake's hook of Selanne on Sunday night? So much for the standard! -- and we are back to where we were before the lockout. Now, I like less calls, but if you do that, the games are going to be low scoring and not many teams will get come-from-behind wins and we will have four overtime playoff games for NBC to broadcast. Again, none of this bothers me. I love the game. I think just a little bigger net, six inches wider and four inches higher, will balance things well.
At this point in the season, if you could sit down on a Saturday night and watch a double-header consisting of two teams from the West and two teams from the East, who would you want to watch battle it out?
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Anaheim at San Jose
Why are you so anti-Everblades? You never mention Florida's ECHL team in your column. I'll have you know that they have one of the best defenses in the entire league and are third place in the hardest division. Craig Kowalski may be the best goalie I've ever seen in the one ECHL game I have been to. You have got to stop letting your biases come through in your sports journalism.
My bad, Shaner. Just know that I carry my Brad Parsons rookie card with my wherever I go.
In your last column, you asked Parm about his hockey "sons." His answer only addressed Landon. How is Matthew progressing? My son Sean shared the nets with him in pee-wees in Atlanta. From the proud papa files, Sean is playing for Kennesaw State University's club team. Smell the glove John, smell the glove.
Goalie Matthew Ferraro, 18, is playing Junior B hockey for the Castlegar Rebels in the KIJHL (Kootenay International Junior Hockey League).
Every season players are scratched due to "the flu" and often we hear that the flu is running through the team. As I sit in my spacious cube at work, I wonder two things: First, is it really the flu or is "flu" a generic word meaning "not feeling well." Secondly, if players are getting the flu, why aren't NHL players being given the flu vaccine? The flu vaccine is readily available. The company I work for offers the flu vaccine every year.
In the old days, the "flu" was a euphemism for a hangover. With all of the travel, and exposure to sweat, saliva and the aerosol cloud emanating from the referee's room on games called by Kerry Fraser, it's not hard to understand why NHL players' immune systems occasionally will weaken. Are all these cases officially the flu? Probably not.
I have decided I will write to you weekly until you start throwing your considerable hockey weight behind the idea that Hartford and the NHL need the Whalers back. Say what you want about the Whale and how they were a small-market team stuck between N.Y. and Boston. I think we have some of the most devoted fans in the NHL, and who could forget some of the great games in the Civic Center against the Bruins.
I've heard you mention the Whale before, but can you give the rest of the country/world your insight and thoughts of hockey back in Hartford? With that being said, I think you should have a role in the organization. What about GM Buccigross? Has a nice ring to it!
Over the last couple of years, I've written enough in this space that talking too much about an NHL team coming to Hartford will cause long-time, somewhat loyal, readers of this column to shove rhino darts in their eyes. That being said, there is no doubt that an NHL team in downtown Hartford would be better received and attended, and would get better television ratings than the Panthers, Ducks, Thrashers, Coyotes and probably one or two more NHL teams to be named later. It would be good for the NHL and it would be good for Hartford.
In your running diary of the Rangers-Sabres' game, I think you used some questionable language in your description of Drury's game-winner. You said that, "Jason Pominville set a nice pick on Shanahan to allow Numminen to get a clear look." If I am not mistaken, and judging from Shanahan's incensed reaction on the ice and measured reaction off of the ice, that pick is illegal. It was blatant interference off the faceoff that enabled a clear shot on net from Numminen, and worse, was a non-call from the referee who should have lifted his arm, stopping the play and giving the Rangers a 4-on-3 PP.
I don't have a problem with little picks off of faceoffs. We need to create some time and space out there. Everyone is so fast and so agile. If a player has position or moves a little bit to block a player with his body, but not his stick, I don't have a problem with it. For Ranger fans, I understand why you are upset since it is a rule and sometimes it is called and sometimes it is not. But, generally, I don't have a problem with little bumps that favor the offense.
So I was waiting at the Buffalo airport for my flight after the turkey holiday weekend, and whom to my wandering eyes appear, Barry Melrose sitting at the bar waiting for his flight to Tampa (I know he went to Tampa because my brother was on his flight). Regarding Melrose, what's his deal? Mullet, clean cut, mullet, clean cut. I almost didn't recognize him with the clean cut. I wonder where he gets his "wig busted"?
You must have seen him when he was 12. Barry's mullet is in full Lion King-Mufasa mode. Additionally, he is growing a scruffy goatee on his face. Frankly, Jiggy, I find your story full of lies and contradictions. The only shred of truth in your story is that fact that Barry was at a bar.
Today is my 21st birthday, and it would be a great gift to rub it in my friends' faces that my article got posted, so help me out will ya?
Minnesota Wild president and GM Doug Risebrough and coach Jacques Lemaire announced last week that defenseman Keith Carney will serve as team captain for the month of December. Brian Rolston and Wes Walz will continue to serve as alternate captains.
My name is Andy Wiltrout, I'm 16 years old, and live about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh. I'm planning on going into sports journalism and was wondering what college you went to, and how you went through the process of getting your job.
LET'S GO PENS!
I get hundreds of e-mails like this and answer it once a year. Maybe twice if I forget. I grew up playing sports and turning the sound down on the TV and announcing sports into a tape recorder. Then, I chose a small college where I could compete in athletics and could participate on a campus television station, radio station and write for the school newspaper.
I chose Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. I didn't have to wait in line to anchor, DJ and write. That's the benefit of a small school. The benefit of a larger school is more exciting athletic events, the chance that a company has a boss that shares your alma mater, and a larger pool of males and females to choose from. After graduating from Heidelberg College, I got my first paying TV job in South Yarmouth/Cape Cod, Mass, as an evening news cameraman, called a "photog" in TV land. I covered local sports there for five years. From there, I went to Providence, R. I., for two years before being hired by ESPN. I started this column in October of 2001.
On an MTV Rockumentary, I heard R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe say you have to have a vision and stick it out, to not listen to anybody but yourself. That's what I've basically tried to do.
What are your predictions on who will take home this year's college hockey national championship? Da Gophs look to be chicken dinner winners this year, even with their youth. Thoughts?
Minnesota or Maine will be the national champions. I need to see more.
I read an article that talked about CuJo's suggestion that the NHL institute some sort of challenge system for goals that are possibly a result of a penalty. I like it. If the challenge is won, the goal is wiped and the penalty that resulted in the goal is assessed. If the challenge is lost, a delay of game penalty is assessed on the challenging team and the challenge can only be initiated if the alleged penalty is committed in the offensive zone, no red flag though.
Sgt. Kevin LeBlanc
Livermore Falls, Maine
I respectfully disagree with reviewing penalties.
I have been a great NHL supporter for two decades. Seeing as how I am only in my late 20s, it has been most of my life. I am now tasked with writing a paper on the [technological] advancements of the NHL and I was wondering about your insights and any information you might be able to give me in order to complete my paper. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Replay, summer training, skates and sticks have all changed the game, but the greatest technological advancements is in goalie equipment. The increased protection has allowed goalies to practice and the lighter weight has allowed them to be quicker. Former NHL goalie Reggie Lemelin once told me that he never practiced because there was no way he was going to risk getting hurt. Old-school goalies were the Hart Trophy Beer Drinkers of their teams. Today, they are sinewy, flexible freaks. Scoring will never return to '70s, '80s and early '90s standards unless they make the net bigger.
Just two short questions:
1) Every "expert" writes about how good Crosby, Ovechkin or Malkin are, and I have to agree, they are great players, but I think Thomas Vanek is right in that mix. He's maybe not as good as these three, but without him, the Sabres would miss the one guy that stands in front of the net and deflects shots. What do you think about him?
2) How much of a raise do you think Vanek will get at the end of the year?
1) Thomas Vanek has world-class hands, but he is not a world-class skater. That will always keep him below Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin.
2) Let's say Vanek scores 40 goals this season. I'm sure Buffalo would try to get locked up in a long-term deal. If I'm Vanek's agent, I ask for no more than three years at $3.5, $4.0 and $4.5 million.
Here's an entry for your hockey moms and dads photo files. By the way, the Sharks will pick up Adam Foote at the trade deadline and win the Stanley Cup. You heard it here -- well, maybe not first -- but you heard it here.
Morgan Hill, Calif.
Regarding the backyard hockey rink -- we don't see much ice here in Holland (unlike in Canada), so my boys and I strap on the rollerblades, grab the sticks and head out front to bob and weave around the tulips, windmills, cheese and such. The biggest reward was seeing the Dutch family next door doing the same a few weeks later! Talk about promoting the sport!
Last week, Dmitry from Australia was the first to start the reader photo of the week. Can I be the second? Attached is a picture of my two sons proudly displaying their allegiance to the Leafs. Daniel in the front is striking his favorite Wendel Clark pose, while his little brother Lucas whoops it up.
Doei! (Dutch for "See ya!")
Almere, The Netherlands
Great picture and, hey, he's from The Netherlands. Tie goes to The Netherlands.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.