Cross Checks: 2012 NHL All-Star Game

Folks, just a reminder this is a rant blog, so it’s meant for rants! Too many posts asking me about trade possibilities. Keep those questions for my weekly chat on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET). Luckily, there were some good rants. Let’s take a look:

tj703: The Red Wings road play is getting beyond old at this point. Twice now in the last month they have decided when one of the super stars couldn't play against Eastern Conference bottom feeders that they should all take the night off. It is embarrassing to watch a group of proud pros give no effort whatsoever. We have been spoiled in Detroit for a long time, but for this team to be sub .500 on the road at this point in the season is inexcusable. It is great they want to play hard against the big teams, but two points is two points. The effort in Montreal and Long Island this past month was disappointing. The Cup parade won't be happening in Detroit unless they can figure out a way to play outside the Joe, they are eventually going to lose a home game and right now that streak is hiding a very average team once the wheels go up on the plane when it leaves Detroit.

My take: Well, I guess beginning the post-All-Star break in first place of the Western Conference isn’t good enough for you. Yes, Detroit’s 13-14-0 road record isn’t impressive, but neither is Chicago’s (10-9-2) nor St. Louis' (8-10-3), two divisional rivals battling the Wings for the conference lead. I have confidence the Wings will turn that trend around in the second half. I wouldn’t overreact to it. Another important factor to note is that only Calgary (28 games) has played more road games than Detroit’s 27 at this point in the Western Conference, so the Wings will spend a bit more time at home anyway in the stretch run.

bruinsYea: I am truly disappointed and disgusted with Shanahan right now. His job is hard, I know. But as a Bruins fan, I stood by his somewhat aggressive stance against the Bruins because they are a physical team, and sometimes do cross the line. But when one of our players (Horton) suffers a clear hit to the head, and nothing happens really angers me.

The Bruins' franchise has suffered so many injuries to star players (Neely, Bergeron, Savard, now Horton), I just feel like nothing is really being done to protect our players. The league sees us as the boogey man and couldn't care less.


My take: I’m not going to say Brendan Shanahan has been bang on with every decision this season; there were a couple I disagreed with. But to suggest he somehow has it in for your team in particular is ridiculous. Did you forget that Milan Lucic got nothing for running over Ryan Miller? Or that Zdeno Chara didn’t get suspended for his hit on Max Pacioretty last season? Take the blinders off!

dschust1: I have stuck by Ruff for the past several years despite the disappointment that has always come at the end of the season. Everybody has figured out our gameplan and they skate circles around us. We need a change at the helm, so I am going to say he is gone. With the profile Pegula has given the Sabres, we could get a pretty solid coach I think and not some nobody. As for other changes, I would move Derek Roy, he is a bum, and see if we can give him and something else for the big scorer the Sabres desperately need.

My take: Given that coach Lindy Ruff signed a multiyear extension last offseason (believed to be for four years), I’m not sure how he gets replaced until owner Terry Pegula really wants to eat up some dough. Mind you, if Ruff quickly gets another NHL job, the Sabres would get off the hook financially -- that’s what the Ducks are hoping with Randy Carlyle. Still, at this point, I don’t see Ruff’s firing on the horizon.

jtconline: My rant is Tim Thomas' explanation at the All Star weekend. He tried to explain it all away by saying that it was a personal thing, and not about the NHL or the Bruins, and therefore we should all let it drop. EXCUSE ME! The day at the White House was totally about celebrating the NHL and the Bruins. Thomas is the one who brought politics and his own personal views into it. And, because of that, he shouldn't get off with anything less than an apology, at least to the rest of NHL fandom if Bruin nation doesn't care, for his extremely poor judgment for raining on the celebration with his politics. Once he does this, dropping it and forgetting about it is 100 percent in order.

AND

bs32290: On the story of Tim Thomas, or rather what should be a non-story of Tim Thomas. When can we stop hearing about the White House? I love the Bruins beyond belief but it kills me to see so much attention getting put on the White House snub. A United States citizen has a right to not go where he doesn't want to and to voice his own opinion. The club knew about it for three months ahead of time, so really it should be no issue. And in other sports... for example, baseball. Tony Larussa and Albert Pujos both did not attend the White House event with their team that had won the World Series. Can we finally hear the end of this?

AND

StarZoneX: Did the others go out of their way to post comments on Facebook or the media, making a political statement about why they are not going? I know others have declined, but I don't remember them making the polarizing statements that Thomas made.

My take: Well, one answered the other here. But I will add this, and it’s what I asked Thomas last Thursday night after the All-Star fantasy draft in Ottawa: Does he not realize that by not addressing his statement in full detail with the media he’s actually dragged this out himself? He did add a bit more during his media day availability Friday but still hasn’t really elaborated to the extent that’s needed. Had he done that the day after the White House snub with the Boston writers, the story would be all but gone now. Instead, it lingers because he won’t explain why.

luke.hamagiwa: I'm all for making the ASG a great experience and getting exposure for the game. My complaint is the location. Ottawa is a great city, but by being a LA Kings fan, I can't imagine the unknown toll that travel takes on Jonathan Quick. He is more than deserving of an All-Star Game, but couldn't a more central location be nice, or couldn't we just deal away with this meaningless event.

My take: Well I remember having to travel across the continent for the 2002 NHL All-Star Game in ... Los Angeles. I guess you see my point. The game moves around from market to market. Next year, it’s in Columbus. Tell Quick he’s going to have a long flight again.

Ludlumtc: OK, its great that the Senators and Blues are relevant again thanks to some great coaching and players buying into their respective systems. But with all due respect, when will Mike Babcock get recognized as really being the best coach (or among the best) in the NHL, if not professional hockey, with a Jack Adams award? He seems to get short changed because of the DRW label and seems like he pretty much has to win 63 games to get the nod. Its a feeling of when he does get it, it'll have a lifetime achievement award feeling.

My take: He’s definitely top five in the league on my coaches’ list and I’ve been on record numerous times saying so. The thing about the Jack Adams Award is that the voters are swayed by teams that have exceeded expectations. The Wings’ expectations are sky-high every single season. It’s impossible for Babcock to exceed them. Hence, he gets little Jack Adams love. But if you’re looking for him to get that kind of national recognition, I think he definitely got it after the 2010 Winter Olympics, leading Team Canada to gold under incredible home-soil pressure.

cgraham214: I have a rant about the Washington Capitals. So many talented players yet this year they can't seem to put it together. Ovechkin is having a mediocre year and Backstrom and Green are out for weeks. Will they go back to their usual winning ways or will they continue to be a lackluster team. Do they even have a chance at the cup?

My take: I just don’t see a Cup run in them the way they’ve been inconsistent all season long. Perhaps not having the same pressure on them because most people have written them off might help come playoff time, but I don’t see it at this point.

away0921: I'm just curious, are you as sick of certain fans complaining about their team not "getting enough love" as I am? Thanks.

My take: YES!

hockey989998: Sorry LeBrun, just not a clear enough response last week on the Michalek hit on Hendricks, when you basically said "can't please everyone". Tell me why there wasn't a suspension. This isn't an argument about whether the number of games was too high or too low; Hendricks almost got his neck broken and Michalek wasn't even fined.

Yes, Shanahan has improved transparency when players ARE suspended, but he needs to go all the way and explain why players aren't disciplined as well.


My take: Agreed. That hit was worth a game or two, no question.

tofusteak49: As a Preds fan, I gotta say I'm a little upset that Columbus has been given the ASG for 2013. Really, rewarding a franchise for ineptitude by staging the ASG there? Oh, that's right -- the League did the same thing for Atlanta in 2008. I hope Nashville gets consideration for 2014. The new convention center will be open by then (modeled after Boss Hog's outhouse) and Nashville has a great party atmosphere right outside the arena doors. This could really rock -- the League needs to make this happen.

My take: My understanding is that Nashville didn’t get it for next year because the convention center would not be completed in time . NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is on record saying Nashville will one day get one and in the not-too-distant future. There won’t be an All-Star Game in 2014 because of the Olympic break, but my money would be on Nashville for 2015.

wmryan96: How about some more coverage on the future of the Coyotes? One or two articles in the last couple months on that whole mess just ain't makin' it.

More part-owners (you know what I mean by that) ought to be quoted as well as several Glendale City Council members. This will be the third go-round for them in trying to keep the franchise, having already thrown $50M in tax money into the pit to do so.

Saying there is some secret group trying to buy them off the league's hands is nothing new -- been through that charade three or four times now. There is journalism to be had, so go get it.


My take: Guess you didn’t visit our site on Saturday; check out Scott Burnside's story here.

Chat replay: 2012 NHL All-Star Game

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
3:13
PM ET
Join the ESPN.com NHL crew live in Ottawa as we watch the 2012 NHL All-Star Game.

Skills Competition results

January, 28, 2012
1/28/12
6:49
PM ET
Now that the teams are picked, Team Alfredsson battled Team Chara in the Skills competition. The NHL All-Stars and rookies competed in the following events:
  • Fastest skater
  • Breakaway challenge
  • Accuracy Shooting
  • Skills challenge relay
  • Hardest shot
  • Elimination shootout

Final score: Team Alfredsson 21, Team Chara 12



Fastest skater -- Winner: Carl Hagelin

One skater from each team is positioned side-by-side on the start line. Both skaters race toward the same end zone, both turn outward, skate to the opposite end zone, turn back and skate past center ice to the finish line. There are five preliminary races and the player posting the fastest time from each team will meet in one final match race. Six team points are available.

Breakaway challenge -- Winner: Patrick Kane

A test of creativity, each skater gets three shots with no limits on the breakaway. Shooters can start their attempt from anywhere in the offensive zone and penalty shot rules do not apply. Fans will be able to vote by text message.

Accuracy Shooting -- Winner: Jamie Benn

From 25 feet away, shooters take aim at four foam targets attached to the inner side of the goalposts. The objective is to hit all four targets in the fastest time. The players with the fastest time from each team will go head-to-head in the final round for the title. Five team points are available, one to the winner of each individual matchup.

Skills challenge relay -- Winner: Team Alfredsson

This timed relay will showcase the one-timer, passing, puck control, stick-handling and accuracy shooting. In the one-timer event, three shooters must score three goals over an eight inch barrier. In the passing event, one passer must complete a pass into each of six nets set up around the rink. In the puck control event, one skater will maneuver through a series of obstacles. In the stick-handling event, one skater will control the puck through a series of obstacles. In the accuracy shooting event, one player will take aim at four targets. Each skill must be complete before moving to the next skill. The group with the fastest time will score one point and the team with the fastest combined time will earn one bonus point.

Hardest shot -- Winner: Zdeno Chara

Four players will square off in five head-to-head matchups. The players from each team with the hardest single shot will meet in the finals for the title of the NHL's hardest shooter. Five team points are available -- one to the winner of each of the four preliminary matchups and one to the winner of the finale.

Elimination shootout -- Winner: Steven Stamkos

In a game of hockey survivor, 15 players from each side will participate in the shootout. Shooters who score will move on to the next round in the shootout with the goalies rotating after every third shooter. The event continues until only one player scores in a round. Every goal scored will count as one point for his team.

Skills Competition: Follow players on ice

January, 28, 2012
1/28/12
6:41
PM ET
NHL players will be tweeting live from the ice during tonight's skills competition. Follow along here:



If it’s possible for a guy to be in the thick of the NHL’s scoring race and be under the radar, Marian Hossa is that guy.

Never mind a scoring title; maybe it’s time Hossa should be mentioned in the Hart trophy discussion, as he has made use of his first long summer in a long time to return to elite form.

Hossa is tied for third place in NHL scoring with 53 points in 49 games and is tied for seventh in the league with a plus-24.

“This is the Marian Hossa that everyone knows; he’s a dominant player,” Chicago GM Stan Bowman told ESPN.com on Friday. “He is an unassuming guy but he’s got like a quiet intensity about him.”

While most of the two-way hockey accolades in Chicago go to captain Jonathan Toews -- and with good reason -- Hossa’s value to the team is significant. He kills penalties and works the power play, and when there is a player who needs a little pick-me-up, he generally ends up playing with Hossa for a time.

“He’s like the cure-all,” Bowman said.

The Hawks' GM has a clear idea of what has been the catalyst to Hossa’s banner season, and it’s something called rest.

Between 2008 and 2010 when he won a Cup with Chicago, Hossa played an incredible 65 postseason games. Throw in the 2010 Olympics, and you had a guy who, in Bowman’s words, was burned out.

Last spring, however, the Hawks were dispatched in seven games in the first round by Vancouver, and after the world championships, Hossa told Bowman that he needed this chance to recharge.

“He fortunately had a long summer so he could let his body recover,” Bowman said.

Hossa broke into the NHL as an Ottawa Senator, so he’s enjoying the All-Star weekend, and he’s enjoying his newfound energy and production.

“I definitely believe that has something to do with rest, longer summer and also my summer program for getting in the best shape I can get," Hossa said. "I think overall when I look at it, I feel like [I] turned off from hockey for a certain period of time and after I really started working hard on my strength in the gym and I think [it] definitely helped because I feel really good right now, I feel healthy.

“Overall it feels much better than years before.”

Hartnell pleased to be among stars

For every guy like Alex Ovechkin who ducks the All-Star Game, there’s a guy like Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell whose inclusion means the world.

The rough and tumble Hartnell enjoyed his finest offensive season back in 2008-09 when he registered 30 goals and 30 assists in 82 games.

But this season, playing for the most part with Jaromir Jagr and fellow All-Star Claude Giroux, Hartnell has 25 goals and 44 points in just 48 games. And he is tied for the league lead with 13 power-play goals.

And yes, he’s pleased as punch to be here in Ottawa.

“It’s rewarding I think to get the nod to come here and be recognized for a good start,” Hartnell said.

“It was a surprise to get the phone call, and it’s just been an exciting first half of the year and looking forward to the second half and having a good playoff run.”

Maybe Hartnell always knew he had it in him or maybe this has been something of an awakening, but he knows it hasn’t happened by magic.

“I think playing with Jagr and Giroux obviously has helped that tremendously," Hartnell said. "The biggest thing is I don’t take it for granted every day that I’m with them in the lineup. I’ve worked harder off the ice than I ever have before. You see Jaromir Jagr and the career he had and skating after practice with the heavy stick and all that kind of stuff, and you think, wow, this guy’s got enough God-given talent to be fine not to work hard, so if you look at that and try and take that and use it for myself, and things went better.”

Both Giroux and Jagr talked to Hartnell about conditioning before the season, and Hartnell has worked hard to make sure he can keep up.

“I’m playing 20 minutes a night every night, where the first five, six games I was playing 10 minutes and I didn’t feel comfortable with myself on the ice and I really worked hard to get back to how I felt great on the ice," Hartnell said. "These guys are great before the game, after shifts, after the first period, even though we had a good period or whatever and the goals weren’t there or whatever; it’s like keep going, play the same way, it’s going to come. They just want to win so bad, they want to score goals, they want to get points -- just to have that 'We’re going to take over this game' mentality that Claude and Jags have, it’s contagious.”
OTTAWA -- A year ago at the All-Star Game, much sport was made of Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane for missing his flight to Raleigh, N.C.

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews was happy to share his story of how he pounded on Kane’s door with no result. Teammate Patrick Sharp joked that this was what happens when he wasn’t around to babysit the star winger. Even Kane good-naturedly admitted his parents had been trying to reach him on the phone to make sure he was up for his flight, but he’d turned the ringer off and thrown his phone across the room in anger.

Fast-forward to this year’s event in Ottawa and there is ample evidence that the young man who has lived large during his short time in the NHL is growing up.

General manager Stan Bowman, with whom Kane lived when he first broke into the NHL after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, said he has definitely noticed a change in Kane’s demeanor.

[+] EnlargeChicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane
Scott Rovak/US Presswire"I've definitely seen a different maturity in him," Stan Bowman said of Patrick Kane.
“I’ve definitely seen a different maturity in him,” Bowman told ESPN.com in a phone call from team scouting meetings in Las Vegas.

“He’s taking care of himself really good right now."

After developing a reputation as a party boy -- especially after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup finals -- Kane appears to have embraced a more pastoral lifestyle.

It's a small thing, but with his parents and a friend in town for the All-Star proceedings, Kane insisted that team staff working over the weekend join them for dinner.

“He’s not the kid in that way that he used to be,” Bowman said.

For a period of time, photos of Kane out on the town would regularly pop up in various places on the Internet, but those occasions seem to have waned. There are few reports of excessive socializing in Chicago or on the road.

“I don’t know. I think as time goes on you start to grow up a little bit," Kane said Friday. "I probably learned that ever since I was 18 'til 23, now every year, I think I get a little bit more mature and start focusing on the things that really matter in life.

“For me, I think I’m still a kid. I mean everyone likes to have their fun and do some different things away from the rink. I’ve always kind of prided myself on being myself and trying to stick true to who I am and how I was raised."

This has been an interesting season for the evolving Kane.

After starting out on fire offensively, he has found himself in a slump with just two goals in his last 17 games.

Bowman recalled a moment not long ago when he found a disconsolate Kane in the hallway after another game in which he’d played well but had failed to score.

“He looked like he was pretty down on himself," Bowman said. "He almost looked like a lost soul."

The two chatted about Kane’s dry spell and the frustrations he was feeling at not being able to produce.

“It was like I was talking to my son. You forget he’s just a kid,” Bowman said.

Kane acknowledged that he is working through some difficult times on the ice but maybe this, too, is part of a young man’s maturation process. For someone who has had so much success so early in his career -- along with winning a Cup, Kane was the NHL’s rookie of the year and won an Olympic silver medal in 2010 -- these moments will help define what kind of player Kane will be moving forward.

“It’s something you think about a lot," Kane said. "I still think I’m there with my game, it’s just sometimes you don’t get the production you want. I still feel I have the puck a lot, I still feel that I’m making plays. Just, I don’t want to say I’m not getting the bounces, but it’d be nice to produce a little bit more and score some goals and help out the team a bit.

“Just try and stick with it, keep working hard and hopefully it’ll come."


OTTAWA -- It’s not every day a player breaks his own news at the All-Star break, but that’s just what Ryan Suter did Friday.

The star defenseman for the Nashville Predators turned what is usually a fluff-filled media availability into a headline when he let it slip during questioning that he did not think he would sign an extension before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

"I feel it would be more of a distraction than anything," Suter said of signing now. "We’ve never had a timeline or deadline. We’re just focusing on winning. Everything else will take care of itself."

Just to be perfectly clear, ESPN.com asked Suter again, was he saying he won’t sign before the trade deadline?

"I don’t see it being a benefit by hurrying up and trying to get something done," Suter confirmed. "I’m a Nashville Predator until July. I will focus on making my team better."

And with that, there was a little more clarity on what was already one of the most pressing situations in the NHL: Suter is UFA eligible on July 1, when he would easily be the most desired rearguard on the market.

Was Suter's admission Friday by design? Hard to say. But it’s been coming, said Suter’s defense partner and franchise captain. Shea Weber, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, figured the pressure was mounting on Suter with Feb. 27 drawing closer.

"I was surprised maybe that it took that long for him to get that off his chest," Weber said Friday at his media availability. "Obviously, we talk a lot. It’s been weighing for him a while. Obviously [Preds GM] David [Poile] has been trying to get a deal done. Ryan doesn’t want to deal with it now and that’s why he came forward and said that today."

Now the next move belongs to Poile, whose team has been on a tear in the past month, rising up the Western Conference standings, clearly playoff-bound and perhaps capable of a deep run.

Can he afford to move Suter before Feb. 27 given where his team sits in the standings? Can he afford not to if he stands to possibly lose such a huge asset this summer for nothing?

That’s why Poile would have loved to sign him before Feb. 27 to eliminate that difficult decision.

Part of Poile’s challenge this season has been to show both Suter and Weber that the Preds are in the process of shedding their image of small-budget dime counters who can’t compete financially with the Detroits and the Chicagos of the NHL world.

Poile has told Suter and Weber that the old days of Nashville playing on small payrolls are over.

"That’s the conversation we’ve been having,” Poile told ESPN.com via phone Friday, a few hours before Suter broke his news. "Those days are past. We have new ownership in place. They’ve made a commitment to me and the players and both Ryan and Shea know that, because of the dollars they’re going to be getting and what we need to do to win that Cup, we’ll be spending what is necessary to contend."

Right now, the Preds are a bottom-five payroll. But if Suter and Weber sign on the dotted line over the next few months, that will obviously change.

"I know we’re one of the lowest payrolls this year, but going forward that will no longer be the case," stressed Poile.

But can he convince Suter and Weber of that?

"I think that’s the hardest part, you look at the past and seeing guys go through your team like Forsberg, Timonen, Hartnell -- you go down the list, all you see is guys leaving," Weber said. "You want to believe him [Poile], they’ve got the right things in mind. If they say they’re going to do it [increase payroll], then they should do it and we’ve got to trust them."

Suter has communicated to Poile a desire to see the GM improve the team before the trade deadline, and Poile is trying to do just that ahead of Feb. 27.

Would that be enough for Suter to sign after the season?

"We have a lot of good players in our room," Suter said. "Not saying you gotta go out and get a big-name guy -- just the right piece.

"I want [to] help our team win the Stanley Cup and being in a place that we can go get more players and the pieces we need to help us win," Suter added.

Similarly, Weber is also sitting back and watching things unfold. Because he signed a one-year deal last summer after going to arbitration, the Predators weren’t allowed to talk contract with him until Jan. 1. Not that it mattered, Weber -- like Suter, as it turns out -- wants to wait until after the season.

"As soon as Jan. 1 rolled around, I told them right away that I didn’t want to negotiate during the season," Weber said. "I dealt with enough stress and pressure last summer going through arbitration and the negotiations. Right away, I put it on the back burner. We can use the summer and the next year to try and get something done."

And so, all of it now falls squarely on the shoulders of Poile. His team is at the most important crossroads in franchise history. His two most important skaters, homegrown Predators players, hold all the cards as to whether Nashville will indeed compete with the big boys for years to come or be depleted -- and set back for years -- by their exit.

"We had the good fortune of drafting them and seeing them develop into top NHL players, into being All-Stars, into being arguably the best defense pair in the National Hockey League," Poile told ESPN.com. "It’s our plan and our desire to sign them both. I think our team has proved over the last quarter of the season that despite the changes we made in the offseason -- arguably taking a step backwards and having to change some veteran players and replacing them with some of our up-and-coming players -- that we did it with a purpose. We’re trying to win a Stanley Cup. We felt that was the best way to go.

"And secondly, we had to clear some dollars last summer so we could sign Pekka Rinne, as we did. I said at the beginning of the season that I thought hopefully we could be better in the second half of the season. We needed to get these young guys acclimated. Right now, we’re tracking pretty well there. So I hope that Suter and Weber see that the development process doesn’t just work for them but it’s working for other younger players on our team. I think all the pieces are just about in place to be competitive for a number of years. But we need to re-sign Suter and Weber to make all that come to fruition."
Today, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate which of the drafted All-Star teams is better.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, an interesting night in Gatineau, Quebec, just across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, as the NHL tried on its player draft in advance of the All-Star Game for the second year in a row. And while it didn’t provide the drama of a year ago, when a stricken Phil Kessel was the last player drafted, there were lots of interesting moments in Year 2, whether it was Zdeno Chara letting teammate Tyler Seguin hang until late in the proceedings, or his counterpart Daniel Alfredsson managing (with the good graces of Chara) to collect all the Ottawa Senators involved in the game, including defenseman Erik Karlsson, whom Alfredsson took with the first overall pick. For my money, it remains the highlight of the weekend. Unless the skills competition has changed, it is a dog’s breakfast of events that would take an MIT graduate to figure out, and the All-Star Game is, well, the game. But the draft seems to capture the imagination of both players and fans, and that is the crucial element to making the All-Star Weekend work. Now, on to the nuts and bolts of the draft: Who do you think came out on top? It was interesting to talk to people both in the business and outside whose views were wildly divergent on which team looked the strongest. I guess that’s a good indication that there was no shortage of talent from which captains Alfredsson and Chara had to pick.

LEBRUN: No question, the draft is the best part of All-Star weekend. The skills and the game, well, I think I’ve made my point on that many times. In fact, I’m trying to stay positive this week. NHL executive Brendan Shanahan reminded me Thursday night of my constant bashing of the event. OK, point taken. While the game remains a joke, I grant that the weekend as a whole is fun for the fans in the host city, the players and their families, and the league and their sponsors. I’ve never doubted that. But I would just like to see the game itself spiced up somehow. My suggestion to Shanahan last year was to pit the NHL’s best against KHL’s best from Russia. At least one year, anyway, just to change things up. It would bring back memories of Rendez-Vous ’87 in Quebec City. But back to Thursday night's All-Star draft, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I knew both captains were taking it fairly seriously when I ran into Daniel Alfredsson about a half-hour before the show and he told me he had a couple strategies laid out. I noticed a piece of paper he had in his jacket pocket, on which names and rankings were jotted down. The man was ready!

BURNSIDE: Did Alfredsson’s paper say “All Sens, All The Time”? Here’s what I like about Alfredsson’s team and why I think, for those poor misguided souls who actually care, that Team Alfredsson will run roughshod over Team Chara on Sunday: all those Senators. If anyone is motivated to have a good showing on Sunday afternoon, it will be Alfredsson, the Senators’ classy captain; Jason Spezza, often maligned both in the market and outside it; burgeoning superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson; and the surprising Milan Michalek. I talked to Spezza on Thursday night about the extra juice the team’s strong play has added to the whole All-Star weekend, and you know those guys will want to put on a good show for the hometown fans. I’m not sure there’s going to be that kind of motivation for Team Chara, outside of guys such as Chara and Marian Hossa, who used to play here. I thought it was interesting that Chara held back in trying to cut Alfredsson’s grass and grab a couple of Sens, but he’s obviously a lot nicer than I would have been in his shoes.

LEBRUN: Know this, the nice words Alfredsson and Chara had for each other right before the drafting began was not an act. Those were genuine feelings. Chara looked up to Alfredsson when they played together on the Senators, and some of the great leadership qualities that Chara brought to Boston were born under the tutelage of Ottawa’s captain. Having said all that, I believe Team Chara will crush Team Alfredsson on Sunday. Sorry, but any team that has Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin on the same roster cannot in any way lose a game. Speaking of respect among players, it shows you yet again how Datsyuk is viewed by his peers that Chara took him with his first pick. During our preseason interviews in New York City in September, Datsyuk’s name was brought up the most among the other stars we spoke with when asked which player they’d pay money to watch. That says a lot.

BURNSIDE: Hard not to root for a guy like Datsyuk, who is so well-respected and humble at the same time. Remember when we told him how his peers regarded him, and he seemed genuinely shocked at the praise. That said, this isn’t a game that necessarily rewards two-way play -- and with Steven Stamkos, Daniel Sedin (he’s the goal-scoring Sedin, by the way), James Neal, the red-hot Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux (the Pride of Hearst, Ontario; I feel compelled to put those words in capitals for your benefit, my friend), I don’t see any way that Team Chara matches up offensively. And, oh yeah, of the top defensemen in the league, there’s Kris Letang, Shea Weber and Karlsson lighting it up from the back end. So, here’s my question to you: Who comes away with All-Star MVP honors? My guess is hometown boy Jason Spezza.

LEBRUN: Well, I went on record on Twitter on Thursday night, saying Steven Stamkos would win MVP honors, and there’s no reason for me to change my mind. If Alfredsson has any kind of game, though, and he’s in the ballpark, I have to think the handful of writers who vote on the MVP award (you and I have had the privilege a few years) will give the Senators' captain strong consideration given the emotional intangible. Think Ray Bourque, the 1996 All-Star Game MVP in Boston. It would be hard to resist that angle for Alfredsson if he has a great offensive game.

Photos: 2012 All-Star Game draft

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
11:22
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All-Star DraftDave Sandford/Getty ImagesTeam Alfredsson and Team Chara will battle in the SuperSkills competition on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
Zdeno Chara and Pavel DatsyukDave Sandford/Getty ImagesPavel Datsyuk was the first pick by Team Chara in the All-Star Game draft.
SenatorsDave Sandford/NHLI via Getty ImagesDaniel Alfredsson stacked his team with Ottawa Senators, making Erik Karlsson his first pick.
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple LeafsAndre Ringuette/Getty ImagesPhil Kessel looked happy Maple Leafs teammate Joffrey Lupul selected him with the No. 15 pick after Kessel was taken last in 2011.
Daniel Aflredsson, Henrik LundqvistAndre Ringuette/NHLI/Getty ImagesCaptain Daniel Alfredsson had the help of fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist during Thursday's draft.
Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Boston BruinsDave Sandford/NHLI via Getty ImagesZdeno Chara made Bruins teammate Tyler Seguin sweat until the 18th round before he picked him.
Logan CoutureDave Sandford/NHLI via Getty ImagesLogan Couture was the last man standing this year, but he seemed happy to walk away with a car.

NHL All-Star Game draft notebook

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
10:18
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GATINEAU, Quebec -- Tim Thomas would rather focus on the NHL All-Star Game, but the controversy surrounding his decision to skip the Bruins' visit Monday to the White House has followed him to Ottawa.

Following the NHL’s All-Star draft Thursday night, Thomas met briefly with the media and was asked about the reaction that followed his decision, including that of his teammates.

“They’ve given me their full and unwavering support, and I really appreciate that,” he said.

He declined to comment on another question with a firm "No comment," but paused for a long moment when he was asked whether avoiding the issue altogether only fuels the debate.

“I did address it,” he said. “Everything I said in my statement was what I believe to be the absolute truth. I don’t believe I need to revisit something I stated so clearly.”

-- Craig Custance

Datsyuk Thrilled To Be No. 1

Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk was perfectly content going last in the fantasy draft. "I want the car," he said last weekend.

But it was quite the opposite. Zdeno Chara made Datsyuk the first overall pick, bypassing teammates and fellow countrymen. Chara was going strictly on talent and production. One of the game's elite two-way players, Datsyuk has surged toward the top of the points race with 53 points in 49 games.

The honor of going first trumped winning a new car. Plus, it was a Honda, which probably wouldn't have gone over well in Detroit anyway.

"I'm just more happy. Surprised," Datsyuk told ESPN.com. "A car is a car but I want to be first, too."

He said he's excited to be reunited with former teammate Marian Hossa as well as fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.

"I don't play with Russian for a long time, same team," he said. "Now it's a chance. Who knows? We play good and Ken Holland see, [maybe he'll] bring in a Russian guy."

-- Craig Custance

Couture Goes Last

One wouldn’t know by looking at San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture after the draft that he had gone last overall.

You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

"Being the young guy here and playing on the West Coast, I knew it was a possibility," he said.

Hey, he got a car, right?

"A lot of my friends and my brother are blowing up my phone asking if they can have the car," Couture said, laughing.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton was among the callers. We also texted Thornton after the draft to ask him for his reaction to young Mr. Couture going last.

"Love it, his family will love the new car!" Thornton told ESPN.com.

-- Pierre LeBrun

Kessel Not Last

Tyler Seguin would have been an ironic last overall pick a year after Phil Kessel was, given their forever link to The Trade.

Just don’t tell Kessel that.

"I didn’t think about that until you just said that right now,’’ Kessel insisted afterward.

Really? Not sure we believe that one.

There was no car for Kessel this year, with the Leafs sniper going 15th overall. Although he keeps insisting he doesn’t care.

"Anything would have been fine," Kessel said, shrugging. "It’s an honor to be here. It’s not a big deal at all [to go last]. It doesn’t matter."

Any Maple Leafs reference got booed mercilessly Thursday night by rival Ottawa fans, so much that Kessel was taken off guard by it.

"I didn’t realize it was that bad, to tell you truth," Kessel said of the Senators fans’ venom for the Leafs. "When we play here, there’s a lot of Leaf fans at the games ... but we’re looking to have a good time here this weekend."

-- Pierre LeBrun

That Ol' Softie Zdeno

Zdeno Chara might be among the most imposing of players in the NHL but he definitely has a soft spot or at the very least a strong sense of fair play. Even though it was obvious Chara’s counterpart and former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson was trying to corner the market on Senators in the draft, Chara allowed that to happen without disrupting the natural order of things by stealing a Milan Michalek or Jason Spezza.

"I think it’s fair enough to have the team guys kind of together especially, you know, for Ottawa fans and people in Ottawa. When they could have their home team players on the same team, I think it just makes it very special for them. Obviously, I didn’t want to interfere with that, and respect that," he said.

-- Scott Burnside

Campbell Close To Home

Lots of familiar faces for Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell this weekend in somewhat familiar surroundings. Campbell played his junior hockey in Ottawa, skating on the Rideau Canal during his leisure time, and he has a dozen family members either in town already or en route.

His inclusion in this All-Star weekend, his fourth All-Star appearance, reinforces Campbell’s decision to agree to a trade from Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup, to the Florida Panthers last summer. Campbell is second in the NHL behind Erik Karlsson in scoring among defensemen and is the lone Panthers representative here. But he did hook up with former Hawks teammates Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.

"I think you’re always worried when you move to a different team and a different city, but for myself personally, it was the best decision," Campbell said.

He noted that he is getting a chance in Florida to showcase his skills in a way that perhaps he wasn’t able to do in Chicago. Still, he was quick to reinforce his feelings about his time in Chicago and specifically playing for coach Joel Quenneville.

"I loved my time in Chicago," he said. "The organization was great, and Joel, I learned a ton from Joel about how to play the game. Now that’s the past, and [you] take a lot of good things out of Chicago and you move forward."

As for the curious route of leaving the warmth of South Florida for the chill of an Ottawa winter during the break, Campbell is OK with that.

"There’s lots of time for the beach and all that. I know the boys are having fun I’m sure somewhere wherever they are, but I’m happy to be here," Campbell said.

-- Scott Burnside

Home Game For Perry

Corey Perry is actually from Peterborough, Ontario, but he has family and friends who live here in Ottawa, so this is an NHL homecoming of sorts.

"I’ve got a lot of cousins here; my dad’s side pretty much lives in Ottawa," the reigning Hart trophy winner said after the draft. "It’s going to be a fun weekend."

-- Pierre LeBrun

Ottawa Is Living Large

No doubt the Ottawa region and the Senators would have been pumped to host the All-Star weekend, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have the oomph this weekend stands to have if the team had been languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings as most believed it would be.

Instead, the surprising Senators hit the break in sixth place in the conference and looking forward to the final 30 games of the regular season.

"We’re looking forward to a lot of divisional games, a lot of important hockey games, and last year at this point of the year, we didn’t have important hockey games, so we’re excited to have important hockey games coming into this part of the season," Senators center Jason Spezza said Thursday.

And the team’s play has sure made taking part in the weekend’s celebrations more palatable for him and his teammates.

"Yeah, I think so," Spezza said. "We feel like we’re here on merit and because the team’s played well. You want to be a part of something like this but it’s nice when you’re having a good year and things are going well up to this point. Our fans are excited; we’re excited about it. I think because the club’s played good hockey, everybody’s really excited about hockey right now, and this is really just icing on the cake on it at this point."

As for teammate Erik Karlsson, with whom Spezza sat before being selected by teammate Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza agreed that no one seemed to be having as much fun as the young defenseman, who leads all NHL defensemen in points with 47.

"Erik’s a great kid. He’s a real light-hearted guy. I think the more and more people get to know him, the more and more they’re going to like him. He’s a confident kid that believes in himself and he’s a heck of a hockey player and he’s a great guy in the dressing room," Spezza said.

-- Scott Burnside

Benn's Scare

Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn won’t lie. He was sweating it just a little when it was down to him and Sharks center Logan Couture. But he insisted he was also having fun with it.

"A little bit of both," Benn said after Friday night’s All-Star draft. "We knew it would come down to the wire. It doesn’t matter. We’re all here to have a good weekend, and we might as well have fun with it."

You might argue being picked second to last is the worst possible outcome because there’s no car as a prize, right?

"Well, it was a little bit of a win-win before those final two picks, either picked or get a car," Benn said, laughing. "I’m happy I got picked."

Benn was activated from the Stars' injured reserve just before the All-Star weekend. We asked him whether he put a little friendly pressure on Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk to do that.

"A little bit, yeah," Benn said, smiling. "He was nice enough to let me come here. He wanted me to come here; it’s a good experience for a young guy like me."

-- Pierre LeBrun

Kane Caught On Tape

It wouldn’t be an event without Patrick Kane making things interesting.

"That blonde’s unbelievable," Kane was caught saying on the telecast.

"It was a little blonde kid in front; that’s all I was talking about," a smiling Kane insisted afterward, in no way convincing any of the media on hand.

"I can’t believe they put that on," Kane said, knowing he was busted. "No more mic'ed up for TSN."

-- Pierre LeBrun

Chat replay: All-Star Game draft

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
6:23
PM ET

Join Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun and Craig Custance live from the NHL All-Star Draft in Ottawa.

Five Things: 2012 All-Star weekend

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
4:29
PM ET

1. Tim Thomas

Voted in by the fans as the starting goaltender, well, one wonders if that would have actually occurred had fans known of his White House-snub intentions. Luckily for him, the All-Star Game is in the other nation’s capital across the border, so you wouldn’t think the Ottawa folks would care too much. Still, given his refusal to talk about the topic with Boston media after Thursday night’s game in Washington, the story will continue to have legs in Ottawa with the massive media assembled for the weekend. Word is Thomas will continue to refuse to talk about it, but it won’t stop the media from trying to get him to answer its questions.

2. The surprising Senators

When the season started, the All-Star hosts were predicted to be toast by the All-Star break. Not so. Paul Maclean’s men instead are the toast of the town in Canada’s capital, the league’s most surprising team of the season, sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference. With All-Stars Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek all voted in by enthusiastic, ballot-stuffing locals, it’s going to be a weekend love-in for the Sens.

3. The no-shows

Well, the best of the best aren’t quite in Ottawa, are they? Not when arguably the top three players in the world -- Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews -- won't be there. Add in Nicklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne, Mikko Koivu and Dustin Byfuglien and you’ve got quite the list of absentees. Will that mar the weekend? Probably not, but the absences of Crosby and Ovechkin will especially be felt. The fact that Ovechkin, suspended by the league, opted out without further punishment from the league will also continue to be a watercooler item.

4. The expiring collective bargaining agreement

As many of the game’s top players gather in one place for a few days, hard to believe some of them won’t be asked about the upcoming labor talks in their sport. Given the disagreement between the NHLPA and NHL over realignment, it’s a topic that is just beginning to take over the front and center. Labor talks are expected to begin sometime after the All-Star break in February.

5. Concussions

Whether it’s really an epidemic or not, with the game’s top player still sidelined by a concussion and a slew of other players afflicted this season, concussions will continue to generate needed debate, and the All-Star gathering provides a perfect platform for some of the game’s top players to voice their opinion/concerns on the matter.
Lots of angst this week. God bless you for it. Let's take a look:

bflo2balt: Something is rotten in the state of Pegula-ville. The Buffalo Sabres are bad. They are so bad that the love-fest that was the purchase of the team by Terry Pegula has gone from trial separation to nasty divorce. The pleasant thoughts from that February afternoon are such a distant memory that to even the most positive Sabres fan, the ownership change is now unnoticed at best. Terry Pegula has no idea what he is doing nor does he know what to do. Like a President trapped in a failing policy, he is left only to spew a "stay the course" rallying cry, which is producing more crying than a rally. The coach has lost control, the GM seems like a deer in headlights, and the team President can only speak of frustration with MSG and Time Warner Cable. Then there is Pegula, the billionaire, the passionate fan who promised a Cup in three years, watching his 11th place team wander aimlessly into the stretch producing little more than an excuse for frustrated fans to call into sports radio shows to vent, sit there and explicitly say that he will do nothing. Leaderless, inside the dressing room and out, the Sabres continue to drift wherever the team's weak will takes it. These are dark days in Buffalo and that flicker of hope on the horizon fades dimmer and dimmer as those with the power to light the torch do nothing. The bottom cannot come soon enough and "Hockey Heaven's" only hope is that this lifeless decomposing team somehow nourishes the soil in the hopes that some sort of future growth can occur and give the Buffalo faithful a reason to believe in the idea of Pegula-ville again.

Matt
Baltimore


My take: Now that’s a rant. I know when I spoke with Sabres CEO Ted Black a month ago, he preached patience. But I doubt he thought the losing would continue at this rate. Everyone connected with the franchise insists patience will remain. At the very least, from what I hear from other GMs, Sabres GM Darcy Regier is certainly working the phones. I would expect him to make a couple of notable moves between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline to help shake up this roster. Yes, the injuries are the most significant reason for Buffalo’s disappointing season, but it doesn’t explain everything. There just is something not right with the current makeup of this roster. Even when healthy.

smormando14: Can we finally say "enough with the boring Devils hockey" comments? On special teams, it's very likely someone is going to score in a Devils game. They throw two forecheckers in rather than sit at the blue line and wait. They're not a boring team anymore!

[+] EnlargeKovalchuck
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireAfter putting up only four goals in his opening 17 games this season, Ilya Kovalchuk has notched 13 in his last 22 games.
My take: Agreed! One of my favorite teams to watch this season. Under Pete DeBoer, they’re playing a nice brand. They’re a quick-transition team. Anyone who says the Devils are boring isn’t really watching.

1ndago: How does Nashville, which loses at least one top player every year (to go back a bit Vokoun, Forsberg, Timonen, Arnott, Sullivan, Hamhuis, Lombardi) continuously keep winning? When will Barry Trotz and David Poile be recognized?

My take: Well, you’re preaching to the choir, that’s for sure. Both Scott Burnside and I have long lauded the Poile/Trotz regime. Poile’s work was recognized last season when he was nominated for the NHL’s GM award, although he lost out to Vancouver’s Mike Gillis. It really is extraordinary the way the Preds have been competitive year in and year out without a big payroll and while losing important players. The key is drafting and developing. They’re excellent at both. That’s the key for any small-market team. They also don’t rush young players up, they make them play some time in AHL Milwaukee. But this is very much a crossroads season for the Preds. Ryan Suter can be a UFA July 1 and, while contract talks have been ongoing, there’s still no extension with the Feb. 27 trade deadline looming large. Captain and franchise player Shea Weber will be an RFA July 1. Another huge decision is coming there in the offseason. Here’s hoping the Preds can keep at least one of those two stud blueliners.

Lipper71124: On the topic of concussions, I am not a fan of the way the NHL is allowing teams to have their own doctors confirm or deny that a player has been concussed. There have been issues/skepticism on whether a player is truly concussed. A player who is suspected of being concussed should be checked out by a independent doctor with no affiliation to either team on the ice. I am a Bruins fan and we have seen instances this year where opposing teams have played up the concussion front in order to entice the NHL, if you will, to come down with a suspension. Ryan Miller and Sami Salo (this was a cheap shot, whether a concussion was present or not) for instance, if they were diagnosed with concussions by an independent doctor, this would give more clout to the claims of players being concussed. I think this is an issue and a serious one, thoughts??

My take: I agree with you that the system isn’t perfect right now in terms of not having independent doctors at games. The cost of that for the league would be exorbitant. But I can tell you I’ve met some of the team doctors in this league and believe me when I say they would never buck to any kind of gamesmanship or team pressure. They’re doctors. They have medical degrees. You know, the Hippocratic Oath and all that. I trust doctors to put the health of the player ahead of any other goal.

maxd3012: Pierre, It is time for critics to turn their attention away from Ilya Kovalchuk. His tenure with Devils has been marked by constant questioning over his value to the team. Given the enormity of his contract and expectations, demanding high output of the star winger is just. Yet, it seems his current production and value to the Devils has gone ignored by the same who have made it their point to deride him. Prior to a pointless showing against Winnipeg, Kovalchuk was averaging a point a game on the season (his career average is .99 points per game). Despite a typically slow start, his 24 points in the last 21 contests (12 goals) suggests fair production for his $6.6 million cap hit. Beyond statistical production, Kovalchuk has developed greater versatility, notably an ability to contribute to the league’s top PK unit. Given what the Devils sacrificed to acquire his long-term services, I would be among those anticipating still greater production. But, with many preseason projections that the Devils would finish near or below the playoff cutoff, to not include Kovalchuk among the greatest contributors to their success is off base.

My take: Yes, I agree that Kovalchuk’s resurgence has not been documented nearly as closely as his struggles. For the longest time, I myself wondered if he would ever learn to fit in on that team, and I questioned his decision to sign in New Jersey. But I think that time has finally come. After putting up only four goals in his opening 17 games this season, he’s notched 13 in his past 22 games. His minus-9 rating suggests that he may never totally figure out the 200-foot game, but that’s not what he’s getting paid for. He’s tied for second in the league in shots per game at 4.2. He looks at ease on a line with Zach Parise in what is one of the most lethal duos in the league. Kovalchuk took a lot of criticism for his play in the first year and a half of that big contract with the Devils, but he’s beginning to change some minds now.

Dishquatch: This rant may be a bit premature but there is already talk of a strike/lockout for the 2012-2013 season. One commentator even speculated that the season would not start until December, if at all. Hockey hasn't recovered from the last strike, it can't take another one. Owners and players get your acts together now!

My take: I covered the 2004-05 lockout every single day for 300-plus days. So there are few people who want to avoid another one more than I! The reality is, it’s impossible to predict an accurate time frame for these things. I speak to officials at both the NHL and NHLPA all the time -- neither side has a real sense of whether or not games will be sacrificed next season. All they know is what they’re going to be willing to fight for once labor talks begin. Both sides agreed talks would begin sometime after the All-Star break. The league and owners will want to decrease the players’ share of revenues from the current 57 percent. The players will argue they already gave in big-time seven years ago when they agreed to a salary cap. There are a myriad of other issues as well. Here’s a labor preview story I wrote in early October, it helps explain what’s in store.

31beef34: What's the deal with the Wild?!?! Having a hard time understanding how a team can go from red-hot to ice-cold in the blink of an eye. Is it reasonable to fully expect a turnaround by this team after the break?

My take: If you go back and look at some of my commentary when the Wild were first overall in the league, I was on record saying I doubted they would hold on given the red flags that existed then: specifically, an offense ranked in the bottom five and a poor power play. Once the injuries started piling up, those realities were too hard to cover up. Now with Mikko Koivu’s injury, the Wild are definitely in a tough spot.

krafsurjoe1: Here is another rant, WHY DID FOUR OTTAWA SENATORS GET "Cheated" INTO THE ALL-STAR GAME? There are many more that deserve to be there. I'd say only two of those guys, if that, deserve to get in, its just the home ice voting rigged process.

My take: First of all, I want to abolish the All-Star Game, so it’s hard for me to get worked up on anything related to it. Secondly, to answer your question, the host Ottawa fans stuffed the ballot box. They’re going to this silly game, they might as well have their own players in the game. If you want to fix the obvious problem with fan balloting, strip away the ability of fans to vote for the starters.

Mdonahue4: Its great that Tyler Seguin got picked to play the All-Star Game, however, I think Patrice Bergeron once again got over-looked. Steve Yzerman acknowledged his brilliance on both ends of the ice by choosing him to team Canada. When do you think the NHL will stop over-looking him as an All-Star as well as a Selke candidate?

Morgan
Boston


My take: Seguin’s game is more suited for a wide-open All-Star Game, which is more of a shinny game than actual hockey. Bergeron -- whom I picked as my midseason ESPN.com Selke Trophy winner -- is a two-way beast. But Seguin’s hands are perfectly matched to the non-defense exhibition we’ll be in store for again this year in Ottawa.

marino_14777: The league is going down a path I do not like. Suspending everything in site. Trying to take down the physical aspect of the game as well as the fighting in the league. When your at a game, what does the fan get exited about more besides a goal. A great check and a fight. League is going down the wrong road.

My take: And this is just why the league is in a no-win situation with the concussion issue. On the one hand, you’ve got legions of people hammering the league for not doing enough to curb concussions. On the other hand, when you try to bring in measures such as supplemental discipline for hits to the head or boarding to help minimize concussions or behavior that leads to these types of hits, you have people complaining that the game is being softened. It’s a no-win situation, and I don’t have the answer either.

fathertime1021: The past few years have seen a bad trend in officiating. I am okay with missed calls due to the speed of the game -- those are going to happen. I am talking about the consistency of what is called game to game. Something like 2009's playoffs when the Penguins were allowed six attackers for 25 seconds (which lead to an icing, a exhaustion penalty and a Pens goal) to this year when Fistric's hit on Weber wasn't even reviewed. Can the officials just agree on how to call games?

My take: The NHL is 95 years old. That’s how many years fans have been complained about officiating. One thing you learn after covering the NHL for 17 years: Refs will have good nights and bad nights. Over the course of a season, those calls tend to even out for each team. I haven’t been a "fan" for a long time, that’s what happens when hockey is your job, and I notice this is the one area where you see the biggest difference in how I view a game compared to fans: officiating. Calls don’t anger me, because I don’t care which team wins the game. Fans get upset and I understand that; they’re passionate about their teams. But they also view each and every game through the biased prism of their team colors. And that greatly affects how they rate the officials’ performance.

ester13069: My venting is at you, or to be fair, divided between you and Burnside. I'm a life long Devil's fan, and I'm tired of them being treated as second-class citizens. This is a franchise that has won Cups, puts together a competitive team year in and year out, and while they've struggled (by their standards, aka still making the playoffs just not going deep) since the lockout, they've been a real good team since halfway through last season, and the only time they get mentioned is so you can all talk about how great it will be when Parise leaves. Every other athlete gets the "it'd be great if he finished his career where he started, that's an awesome thing to do," but you just can't try and get Parise out of Jersey fast enough. Ridiculous.

My take: Just goes to show you that fans hear only what they want to hear. What I actually said in our weekly video on Parise last week is that I DON’T THINK the Devils will trade him. How is that hating the Devils? Mercy.

flashmesomefinnish: Pierre, I have been a Ducks fan for years now, and beyond the obvious rants about how we, well, suck, I come to you saying that we may not suck enough! Our recent resurgence in the last five games has been great to watch, but what is the point. What is the point of a midseason resurgence to climb from utter disgrace to the lower rungs of mediocrity? Anaheim is in a tricky place where if we lose Teemu, I have to believe Koivu is not far behind. Losing both of them will devastate this team. My point is, with both of them on their way out, a throw away season, what is the point of a mid to late season rally? Isn't it time for Anaheim to make a big move and start the rebuilding process? Perhaps do the unthinkable and trade the "untouchables" aka Teemu and Saku for some draft picks and a little scratch to play with, not to mention ensure a high lottery pick?

My take: You absolutely nailed it. Once it’s obvious your team is not going to make it, as a fan you should be hoping to totally bottom out and get as many balls in the lottery machine as you can. What’s the point of having a big second half just to finish 11th in the West? Players have too much pride, so you can’t ever have this discussion with them. But as Ducks fans, you should all be on board with what the above post had to say.

bnordstrom9: I understand the allure of the Original Six, plus the historic rivalry of the Wings and Leafs, but if Bettman says part of being invited to the WC is on merit, how have the Leafs earned a spot? They haven't made the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout and will likely be a 5-8 seed this year (doubt they'll get through the first round). Besides being historic, I don't think that, since the lockout, that is one of the bigger FRESH rivalries in the NHL. And how about blending a little new with the Original Six? There are other teams that exist outside Canada and New England that can play some damn good hockey that are way more merited to play in the WC than Toronto and that have some semblance of a fresh rivalry with Detroit (think SJ, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis -- teams who have actually made the playoffs the last eight years and played the Wings in those playoffs) and if the NHL really wanted to grow their audience and the game shouldn't they try and grow the less developed fan bases instead of the mature bases?

My take: Pretty easy to see why the league wants Toronto in that game next Jan. 1. There are 100,000-plus seats in the Big House to sell. It just so happens that just across the border from Detroit is Southwestern Ontario and a bottomless pit of hockey fans with money to spend.

prashanthiyer: Hey Pierre, I know this will seem like a typical rant about "Player X/Team X is not getting enough credit," but I legitimately feel that there is a serious beef here. I've seen you address this before, but how is Pavel Datsyuk not an MVP candidate? He's very quietly back in the top 10 in scoring, just six points behind the leader. After starting the season very slowly with just 10 points in his first 15 games, Datsyuk has ripped off 36 points in his last 27 games and that includes 12 multi-point games in those 27 games. We all know how good he is defensively (yet again leading the NHL in takeaways, and is 11th among forwards in plus/minus), but when his offensive numbers start to match what he does defensively, there is no better two-way player. It will be a real shame if his career ends without him getting more than just a single nomination for the Hart Trophy.

My take: You won’t get any disagreements from me. I’ve been on the Datsyuk bandwagon for a very long time. Truly one of the world’s most underappreciated superstars. One aspect of his game I truly admire is how hard he is to knock off the puck. He’s not a big man, but few players are harder to knock off the puck.
As always, the naming of All-Star reserves generates more buzz for the snubs than it does for the actual players who get invited.

That’s the business we’re in, right?

Let’s make one thing clear off the top, however. Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom were not "snubbed" by the NHL. The league wanted them there but both future Hall of Famers politely declined, wanting instead to rest their old bones that weekend.

Selanne was asked by the league and said it should name Corey Perry instead. Lidstrom was proactive, a source told ESPN.com Thursday, informing the league well in advance that he’d rather rest that weekend and spent time with his family.

Both are classy men who have played in plenty of All-Star Games and have given way more to the game than the other way around. They owe the NHL nothing and no one should begrudge them for skipping this year’s event.

Now let’s take a look at who was added Thursday to the All-Star Game, which is Jan. 29 in Ottawa:

Forwards

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins

Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

John Tavares, New York Islanders

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.

My take: Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, Kris Versteeg of the Panthers, Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks and Scott Hartnell of the Flyers are the most notable snubs here. Backstrom has been Washington’s best player all season long. He deserves to be there more than any other Cap, including Ovechkin. Hartnell probably fell victim to the numbers game, with many of his teammates picked. The Flyers' All-Star contingent includes Claude Giroux and Kimmo Timonen, as well as Matt Read and Sean Couturier being named to the All-Star rookie group. You'd think the same could be said for the Blackhawks and Sharp, given that Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews all made it from the ‘Hawks. But a source confirmed to ESPN.com that his injury is the only reason Sharp wasn't added.

Defensemen

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers

Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Dan Girardi, New York Rangers

Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers

Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks

Dennis Wideman, Washington Capitals

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

My take: Glad to see Dan Girardi make it. He’s been outstanding for the Rangers this season, leading the NHL in ice time. In similar fashion, the league was clever to recognize Dennis Wideman’s season. Really, no real obvious snubs here on defense. I could have made the case for Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues or Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers, but I think the league nailed it on defense.

Goaltenders

Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues

My take: Always tough to satisfy folks in goal. There’s about a dozen netminders who deserve to go every year and only six can make it. Among those who likely deserved a shot were Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins, Pekka Rinne of the Predators, Niklas Backstrom of the Wild, Roberto Luongo of the Canucks and Mike Smith of the Coyotes. But part of the league’s effort in selecting these All-Stars is to try to ensure most teams are represented. Carey Price was the obvious pick from the lowly Habs.

12 Rookies

Luke Adam, Buffalo Sabres

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils

Colin Greening, Ottawa Senators

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks

My take: No issue here. One of the handy things about having these rookies around is that should a player pull out of the All-Star Game at the last second and there isn't time for a replacement, the league can find a sub from this rookie list.

Final All-Star voting results

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
11:07
AM ET
The Ottawa Senators are assured of having at least four familiar faces on the ice when they host the NHL All-Star game this month.

Defenseman Erik Karlsson led all vote-getters in fan balloting, and captain Daniel Alfredsson and fellow forwards Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza also were elected for the game on Jan. 29.

The NHL said Thursday they will be joined by Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas in this year's game.

Here is a look at the final voting tallies:

Forwards
1. Daniel Alfredsson - 897,055
2. Jason Spezza - 817,483
3. Milan Michalek - 743,977
4. Phil Kessel - 701,833
5. Joffrey Lupul - 520,843
6. Sidney Crosby - 504,393
7. Claude Giroux - 385,253
8. Jonathan Toews - 341,419
9. Pavel Datsyuk - 313,783
10. Evgeni Malkin - 303,726
11. Jaromir Jagr - 255,178
12. Patrick Kane - 244,136
13. James Neal - 230,848
14. Henrik Zetterberg - 206,852
15. Marian Hossa - 206,852
16. Steven Stamkos - 185,342
17. Jordan Eberle - 184,036
18. Alex Ovechkin - 182,920
19. Daniel Sedin - 180,636
20. Jordan Staal - 166,527
21. Henrik Sedin - 165,044
22. Patrick Sharp - 164,218
23. Ryan Kesler - 152,005
24. Danny Briere - 149,130
25. Taylor Hall - 141,366
26. Patrice Bergeron - 138,580
27. Marian Gaborik - 133,374
28. * Tyler Seguin - 121,135
29. Milan Lucic - 118,015
30. Thomas Vanek - 102,582
31. Ryan Smyth - 101,399
32. Mike Cammalleri - 99,963
33. Anze Kopitar - 92,229
34. Tomas Plekanec - 89,596
35. Teemu Selanne - 89,113
36. Brad Richards - 86,001
37. Joe Thornton - 85,314
38. Joe Pavelski - 84,405
39. Jeff Skinner - 84,063
40. Martin St. Louis - 79,278
41. Matt Duchene - 76,451
42. Nicklas Backstrom - 75,661
43. Patrick Marleau - 74,284
44. * Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - 73,908
45. Jarome Iginla - 70,570
46. Jason Pominville - 67,005
47. Zach Parise - 63,611
48. Jamie Benn - 62,840
49. David Backes - 62,420
50. Mike Richards - 58,794

Defensemen
1. Erik Karlsson - 939,591
2. Dion Phaneuf - 614,933
3. Sergei Gonchar - 603,628
4. Nicklas Lidstrom - 476,979
5. Zdeno Chara - 463,650
6. Kris Letang - 452,979
7. John-Michael Liles - 401,096
8. Duncan Keith - 295,033
9. Shea Weber - 261,597
10. Brent Seabrook - 230,472
11. P.K. Subban - 226,272
12. Niklas Kronwall - 198,859
13. Kimmo Timonen - 195,334
14. Chris Pronger - 176,367
15. Alexander Edler - 167,794
16. Dustin Byfuglien - 149,405
17. Drew Doughty - 115,404
18. Dan Boyle - 114,816
19. Brent Burns - 91,434
20. Brian Campbell - 88,654
21. Mike Green - 88,019
22. Marc Staal - 87,902
23. Ryan Whitney - 86,781
24. Sheldon Souray - 84,597
25. * Dan Girardi - 78,411
26. Tyler Myers - 72,360
27. Alex Pietrangelo - 68,881
28. Jack Johnson - 66,498
29. Ryan Suter - 60,525
30. * Brooks Orpik - 58,814

Goaltenders
1. Tim Thomas - 626,540
2. James Reimer - 498,075
3. Marc-Andre Fleury - 424,619
4. Carey Price - 251,395
5. Henrik Lundqvist - 209,943
6. * Jimmy Howard - 192,685
7. Nikolai Khabibulin - 185,354
8. Pekka Rinne - 171,179
9. Ilya Bryzgalov - 166,647
10. Roberto Luongo - 166,391
11. Jonathan Quick - 118,174
12. Martin Brodeur - 102,672
13. * Corey Crawford - 99,264
14. Ryan Miller - 97,626
15. * Craig Anderson - 79,064
16. Kari Lehtonen - 78,735
17. Tomas Vokoun - 59,325
18. Jaroslav Halak - 50,168
19. * Brian Elliott - 46,245
20. Cam Ward - 44,037

* - Write-in candidate

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