For nearly two years, the Phoenix Coyotes have been writing one of the NHL's feel-good stories. But when the rosters for the 58th All-Star Game were announced earlier this month, they got no love from the league's hockey operations department.
|Keith Yandle can't help but smile about being a first-time All-Star participant. (Getty Images)|
Barring last-minute injury replacements, the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders also will not have All-Star representatives under the "fantasy draft" format introduced this season. Unlike those other teams, however, Phoenix holds down a playoff spot and is only three points behind fourth-place Nashville in the Western Conference.
"It's kind of par for the course," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Last year, we finished with 107 points, fourth overall in the whole NHL. This year, we're [sixth] in the West when [the All-Star team] comes out and we still don't have anyone that makes it."
Perhaps NHL officials were listening when Doan suggested Keith Yandle deserved a trip to Raleigh. The former fourth-round pick, added to the team as a replacement Tuesday, ranks first in scoring among defensemen -- and leads the Coyotes -- with eight goals and 36 assists in 51 games. Four of the five blueliners with more points are All-Stars, and only Enstrom among that group averages more ice time than Yandle -- by a whole second per game.
"Keith Yandle, not only should he be there, he's probably a top-five or a top-four defenseman in the entire league," Doan said. "I'll put him against anybody in the league. He is just an incredible hockey player. He's the best player on the ice probably 75 percent of the time."
Also passed over for a spot on the U.S. team that won the silver medal at last year's Vancouver Olympics, Yandle took this latest snub in stride.
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"There's nothing really I can do about it, just keep playing," he said. "I was a little disappointed, but all the guys they selected are a great group of guys."
For the first time since 2004, that group does not include a member of the Sabres. Derek Roy was putting up All-Star-caliber numbers, averaging a point per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury last month. With 18 goals and 21 assists, Thomas Vanek has more points than five All-Star forwards, including Toronto's Phil Kessel. But Vanek has been wildly inconsistent, and it's hard to imagine a high-profile event like the All-Star Game without a member of the Maple Leafs on the ice.
Ryan Miller has been a workhorse in the net for Buffalo, but he's not having a better season than any of the six All-Star goalies.
The same can be said of Florida's Tomas Vokoun, who's third in the NHL with five shutouts and seventh with a .923 save percentage. The Panthers' only other All-Star candidates are leading scorer Stephen Weiss, who has 13 goals and 20 assists, and second-year defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who boasts a plus-9 rating on a team that's given up just as many goals as it's scored.
It might be surprising, but at least a couple of veteran Panthers don't have a problem with not having an All-Star presence.
|The Islanders don't have a player at the All-Star Game, but if they did, it would probably be John Tavares. (Getty Images)|
"If there are six All-Stars on one team, send all six. I don't think some guy should get snubbed, if he's deserving of it, because they need to have representation from every team in the league," goalie Scott Clemmensen added. "I don't believe in that."
Languishing near the bottom of the NHL standings, the Islanders are a little more diplomatic when it comes to the NHL's selection process. But in a locker room in which oft-injured goalie Rick DiPietro is the only All-Star veteran, there's agreement who should get the call if a roster spot opens before this weekend.
"J.T.," winger Kyle Okposo said without hesitating.
J.T. is John Tavares, who leads the team in most offensive categories. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft -- he was selected two spots ahead of Avalanche All-Star Matt Duchene -- registered a hat trick four nights after the rosters were unveiled and has 22 points over his last 19 games.
"If something happens and I was to get named, I'd be ecstatic and would love the opportunity to go," he said. "If not, I'll enjoy the break and rest up for the last stretch of the season."
"I'm sure John will have plenty more opportunities to play in the All-Star Game, no doubt about that," DiPietro said.