CBCSports.ca's Western Conference all-stars
NHL fans, general managers and the league have had their say. Now it's time for ours, as we present CBCSports.ca's selections for the 2009 NHL Western Conference all-star team.
Always a lightning rod for criticism, this year's fan voting for the six starters came under even more fire than usual when four Canadiens landed spots in the East lineup for the Jan. 25 game in Montreal. In the West, fine players like Jonathan Toews and Montreal native Jean-Sebastien Giguere were named starters over more deserving candidates.
So forgive us for feeling we've done a lot better.
Before you send those angry e-mails, know that we, too, followed the NHL policy requiring at least one representative from each club. Hey, we don't make the rules, we just follow 'em.
All stats are through Jan. 6.
THE STARTING SIX
Niklas Backstrom, G, Minnesota Wild: Rookie Steve Mason is the more eye-catching story, but Backstrom has a larger body of work and has been required to carry a team on his back in a way that Mason hasn't. Minnesota, the lowest-scoring of any team currently in playoff position, have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL as of Jan. 6. Backstrom has allowed more than three goals only three times in 33 starts.
Dan Boyle, D, San Jose: Boyle has been reborn with the talented Sharks after a dreadful final season in Tampa Bay. New coach Todd McLellan has encouraged the San Jose defenceman to both shoot and join the rush, which has suited Boyle just fine. Boyle is tied for the defenceman league in goals (12) and points (32) and is a plus-7.
Brian Rafalski, D, Detroit: The omission of Rafalski from both starter and reserve lists for the all-star game is, to quote hockey commentator Pierre McGuire, "unconscionable." The 35-year-old is on a pace to set a career mark in points and looks unflappable out there. He's third among defenceman to only Boyle and Mark Streit with 31 points and is a plus-12.
Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose Sharks:Teammate Joe Thornton has the most points on the team but it's Marleau who has been the most versatile. To wit: three power-play scores, three short-handed markers and a five game-winners. He has already matched last year's goal total of 19 and is a plus-15.
Shane Doan, F, Phoenix Coyotes:Might be having the finest season of his career at age 32 and his helping lead a ridiculously young Phoenix forward corps into playoff contention. His longest pointless drought through Jan. 6 was just two games, putting him in the unlikely company of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in that regard.
Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit Red Wings:Datsyuk just edges Ryan Getzlaf for the final starter spot up front. The Russian has a healthy lead over several talented Red Wings teammates with 45 points and is a plus-17.
Steve Mason, G, Columbus: The rookie has been sensational for Columbus. He is tied for the NHL lead in shutouts and leads the league in goals against (1.82) and save percentage (.934).
Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim: It's great that Giguere is from Montreal, but Hiller has been the best Anaheim goalie so far this year. Hiller has three shutouts and a sterling save percentage (.933).
Brett Clark, D, Colorado Avalanche: Someone from Colorado has to represent, and Paul Stastny is injured. Milan Hejduk was the official pick, but his total of 13 goals in 40 games is underwhelming. The nod here goes to the team's most unsung and best defensive defenceman.
Niklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit: There really isn't anything that can be said here that a hockey fan doesn't already know about Lidstrom. Sure, there has been a drop-off for the 38-year-old after a career year last season, but he has still been better than all but a handful of defencemen in the West.
Sheldon Souray, D, Edmonton Oilers: Flip a coin between the yin and yang of Souray and defensive teammate Lubomir Visnovsky — both are deserving of playing in the Montreal showcase. It's no surprise Souray is among the blue line goal-scoring leaders with 12, but he also could finish as a plus player for just the fourth time in his career.
Shea Weber, D, Nashville Predators: Weber's play has tailed off a bit lately, but he's one of the few Nashville players really up for all-star discussion (Jason Arnott and Pekka Rinne would be the others). Weber is second on the team with 12 goals and a plus-8 manning the blue line.
Patrik Berglund, F, St. Louis Blues: Teammate Brad Boyes has better numbers but is deplorable defensively. Keith Tkachuk was picked to go to Montreal but is a minus-11. Berglund (12 G, 13A, plus-12) shook off the typical October rookie blues and has resembled a poised veteran since then, putting him in the thick of the Calder race if he stays healthy.
Loui Eriksson, F, Dallas Stars: The East has Austrian Vanek for the sniper role and the West has Swede Eriksson. Hasn't gone more than five games without a goal through Jan. 6, and scored 20 times, equalling his entire career output heading into this season. How Eriksson (or Brad Richards) was passed over for Mike Modano is anyone's guess.
Alexander Frolov, F, Los Angeles Kings: The official pick from the Kings was Dustin Brown, and while not contentious, Frolov has really come on in recent weeks, scoring 10 of his 16 goals in the last 21 games.
Ryan Getzlaf, F, Anaheim Ducks: The Western forwards won't be too flash-and-dash with power forward Getzlaf in the lineup. Only Washington's Mike Green rivals Getzlaf as the Canadian player who has boosted his chances the most in the past year of making an Olympic debut in 2010. Was in the top five in league scoring during the first week of January.
Jarome Iginla, F, Calgary Flames: Flames fans shouldn't be offended Iginla is the lone pick. On the contrary, it shows Calgary has a stronger team concept than at anytime since their Stanley Cup run nearly five years ago. Iginla has scored at least three points in a game an impressive five times this season.
Patrick Kane, F, Chicago Blackhawks: Not only has Kane not suffered a sophomore slump after his rookie award last season, the youthful winger has taken his game to another level with 16 goals and 25 assists through 35 games. Barely 20, few NHL players that young have displayed his kind of on-ice vision.
Rick Nash, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: Two weeks ago we might have said Henrik Sedin for the final forward spot, but Nash has been one of the most dominant NHLers recently and is playing solid defensively as well.
Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver Canucks: Sedin could exceed the 36 goals he established as a career-high two years ago, and five of his 19 scores have been winners.
Joe Thornton, F, San Jose: Playing with Marleau and Devin Setoguchi, the playmaker has taken just 64 shots in 39 games. That will need to change come playoff time, but no worries yet, with Thornton again occupying top spot in assists in the West, with 37 and counting.
Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago: It's tough to leave someone like Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg off the list, but picking an all-star team wouldn't be any fun if there was a dearth of candidates. Besides, Sharp has enjoyed more consistent point production than Zetterberg. He and Eriksson are the only West players over 20 goals.
Forwards Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit) and Devin Setoguchi (San Jose), defencemen Brian Campbell (Chicago) and Kyle Quincey (Los Angeles), and Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim: He was named a starter, and we can't blame the fans for wanting to see the smoothest-skating player of the last 15 years in what's essentially an offensive showcase.
But in addition to the rearguards already mentioned, teammate Chris Pronger, Duncan Keith (Chicago) and Rob Blake (San Jose) might rank ahead of him in terms of actual merit.