HOW IT WORKS
The NHL All-Star game is single elimination, 3-on-3 tournament that is around the middle of the season. Each of the four division plays another in a 20-minute game with 10-minute halves. The winners of each round meet in the finals. The 2017-2018 season will happen this Sunday, January 28th. Each team has 9 skates and 2 goalies selected for the teams. Who plays who is based on a Skills Competition the night before. The winning team gets to decide who they will play, setting up the tournament bracket. Below, I’ll break down the teams a bit and make a bet on who will take the $1,000,000 overall but ultimately, it’s the All-Star game, anything can and will happen. It doesn’t have the same prestige as the MLB or NFL version of this event. Even as I write this, teams are pulling moderately injured skaters out to save
Metropolitan Division Team
This is the defending division from last season, which shouldn’t be a surprise. The Metropolitan division and even the East Conference as a whole has a much tighter competition. The ranking spread of wins and losses are much smaller for the top six teams than the Western Conference. The top-seeded Capitals only hold off the Blue Jackets and Penguins by two wins. It’s competitive and so are the players. Led by two of the greatest active players in Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, they have a ton of firepower for scoring in the front. They are backed up with Claude Giroux as the sole member of the Flyers and who is already set to pass his numbers in scoring from last season. A couple fiery defensemen will round out the skater core. As for their goalies, the living legend of Henrik Lundqvist, as well as the always-intimidating Braden Holtby, will sit between the pipes. With those two, who do you play? You don’t lose either way! They have super skilled, smart, methodical players but they have the big, impulsive hitters who are also going to utilize a 3-on-3 structure for some old-fashioned and physical hockey. They could easily be in the final round as long as they don’t match up with the Atlantic Division in the first game.
Atlantic Division Team
The Atlantic Division has the distinct advantage of having more players from a single team than the other All-Star squad. With four players from the first place, Tampa Bay Lightning, they look pretty set to dominate the All-Star game. Not only are the Lightning red-hot outside of the All-Star game, but it stands to reason that with fewer players on the ice per shift, that team relationship is going to help them out a lot. Add in that big, physical, and smart Steven Stamkos is the assigned captain. However, this team, despite all of its strengths, has one weakness. As opposed to other teams and their three defensemen, due to the knee injury Victor Hedman, a huge blow to the Lightning in general. He was replaced by the much younger Brayden Point, a center. Now, he’ll play some back ice defensive strategy but to only run two defensemen is a little insane and they are going to have to rely on some very strong goaltending cause this is the All-Star game. The best shooters in the league are playing and they will be taking big shots often. Now for goalies, they have one clear leader. Andrei Vasilevskiy is hot right now. His season is a season other players dream about. Sitting with a .931 save percentage is beyond otherworldly. Cary Price is more seasoned but his game is weaker. He wouldn’t be an All-Star if another team in the division had a goaltender worth fielding in front of him.
Central Division Team
So to be honest, neither Western Conference team is as strong as either Eastern conference team. We can argue that P.K. Subban is a dominant force but he’s one player on a roster. Chicago’s Patrick Kane can score but he works in a system that he knows and he is the only Chicago Blackhawk on the team. The others, though obviously strong, are not stars on the same level that we know from the Eastern teams. The real ringer for the Central Division is Pekka Rinne. He’s also currently having a monster season and proves over and over again that he is an impossible goalie to score on. Even with the other goalies on the other three teams, Rinne is the only one who is a guaranteed game changer. If he’s on, he can carry a team from in between the pipes. If he’s off, they do not have the skaters to carry them through to win.
Pacific Division Team
The Pacific Division has even more to worry about. Yes, they have Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal from the Golden Knights but they don’t have much else. Joe Thornton is not having an All-Star season so only one of the San Jose Shark “beards” will be present in Brent Burns. This is just one team that clearly is missing some of the intrinsic, play-making partners on the Pacific Division Team. So when Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames takes the ice, his 40+ assists this season won’t matter. He won’t have those who he has practiced and worked with. He’s going to have to make plays with strangers and it will stand to see if he can do that.