Your last-minute guide to filling out those All-Star ballots
Posted: Monday December 29, 2003 5:30PM; Updated: Monday December 29, 2003 5:30PM
The NHL All-Star Game is still more than a month away, but the voting for the starters ends Wednesday.
I've already written my rant about the NHL leaving certain players off the ballot and answered your queries about All-Star voting system, so now it's time to offer my list of whom I think is most deserving of playing in the Midseason Classic.
If you are having trouble deciding which holes to punch on your ballot, my voting guide is here to help. The players with the voting lead in the Eastern and Western Conferences as of Dec. 23 have an asterisk next to their names, though Mike Modano, who leads the West centers, doesn't even make my top six.
Six players are listed at each forward position and goaltender, while 10 defensemen are chosen for each conference. Though the NHL just lists players as wings, I have separated those into left and right wings to give the team a more accurate feel.
You can vote online at NHL.com until 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
So which stars should shine in St. Paul, Minn., on Feb. 7? Without further ado, here are my choices.
1. Mats Sundin, Toronto
Sundin is a Hart Trophy candidate because of his exceptional play and leadership during the Leafs' impressive 16-game points streak. Lang hasn't been helping his team win a lot of games, but his individual numbers on a terrible team speak volumes about how superb he's been. Savard's average of 1.36 points per game is tops in the league, and he might be leading the NHL in scoring if he hadn't missed time with both a left ankle injury and a one-game suspension. Roenick has been superb on the Flyers' top line and has keyed their offense. Thornton isn't dominating like many thought he would this season, but his assist numbers are still worthy of All-Star consideration even if his goal total is not. And Briere has been a bright spot for the Sabres (along with J.P. Dumont), while Chris Drury and Miroslav Satan have been disappointments.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta *
Kovalchuk is the most exciting player in the world today and his improved all-around game helped pick up the slack for the Thrashers with 2003 NHL All-Star Game MVP Dany Heatley out of the lineup recovering from his Sept. 29 car wreck. Roberts hasn't been Sundin's two-way equal, but he's chipped in with plenty of clutch goals for the Leafs and a tough presence down low. Kozlov has been exceptional on the power play as the Thrashers' third option behind Kovalchuk and Savard. Elias isn't posting eye-popping numbers, but playing within Pat Burns' team system in New Jersey, 10 goals and 18 assists are impressive. Ribeiro is enjoying a breakout year and has become the Canadiens' most exciting offensive player. And Recchi has been paired with Roenick for most of the season, providing a sharp-shooting option for J.R. to look for in the offensive zone.
1. Marian Hossa, Ottawa
Hossa overcame a slow start and is catching fire along with the rest of the Senators. Jagr is no longer the dominant force he once was on a nightly basis, but when his mind is right he can still take over a game like few other players. Alfredsson is playing very well for someone who is trying to negotiate a contract extension and captain the Stanley Cup favorites back from a disappointing start. St. Louis continues to score the big goals for the Lightning and his four short-handed goals lead the NHL. McEachern is enjoying a surprising renaissance at age 34 after two years of declining performance. And Amonte may be the third wheel on the Flyers' top line, but his all-around play is at its highest level since his 84-point season for Chicago in 1999-2000.
1. Scott Niedermayer, New Jersey *
Niedermayer is a bona fide Norris Trophy candidate, while Stevens has been almost as good. Aucoin may be the most underrated blueliner in the league, logging huge minutes and giving the Islanders an honest effort in every facet of the game. Chara's physical presence hasn't changed, but he's become more of a scoring threat this season and has been very disruptive when parking his 6-foot-9 frame in front of the net as a screener on the power play. Gonchar leads all defensemen in scoring with 35 points, but he's struggled defensively. Souray and Klee have both been huge surprises, with Souray bouncing back from a horrible wrist injury to become the Habs' top offensive threat. Klee didn't sign with the Leafs until Sept. 27, but it's hard to imagine Toronto having the most points in the NHL if not for Klee's steady play. Rafalski plays in the shadow of Niedermayer and Stevens, but his puck-moving skills and quick shot from the point make him a scoring threat. McCabe missed the Leafs' first seven games, but has 18 points in 30 games to go along with hard-nosed play in his own end. Kim Johnsson and rookie Joni Pitkanen get more box score glory than Desjardins, but the 16-year veteran is the Flyers' best all-around blueliner and has been excellent in Ken Hitchcock's tight defensive system.
1. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey *
Brodeur is the most obvious choice of any player at any position, as his start to the season has been nothing short of spectacular, even on a defensive stalwart club like the Devils. Belfour was incredible during the Leafs' insane month-long run and should be rewarded with another All-Star appearance. Luongo continues to be a wall behind an ordinary team, though his high shot totals tend to wear him down later in the season. Khabibulin has been above average, but the specter of his tenuous relationship with John Tortorella, as well as an excellent backup in John Grahame, always make for interesting subplots in Tampa. Theodore isn't playing as well as he did in winning the Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy in 2001-02, but he keeps the Canadiens in a lot of games by himself. And Nurminen has been hot and cold, but he has the Thrashers in control of the Southeast Division thanks in large part to a ton of offensive support when he's in the net.
1. Joe Sakic, Colorado
Sakic and Datsyuk are neck-and-neck for the top spot, as both carried their injury-riddled teams for much of the first three months. Sakic dominated while Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya were out, while Datsyuk did the same thing while the Wings were missing half of their forwards. Morrison continues to be a steady presence in the middle of the Canucks' Big Line, deftly working the puck into scoring areas both at even strength and on the power play. Demitra and Weight give the Blues are amazing one-two punch in the pivot. And Marleau is finally living up to his promise, as his 16 goals have him in a five-way tie for eighth in goals.
1. Markus Naslund, Vancouver *
Naslund's power-play numbers are down significantly from last year, but he's been even better at even strength as well as in the defensive zone. Nash is making Doug MacLean look like a genius for trading up in the 2002 draft, as his 53-goal pace makes it obvious he'll be an offensive superstar for the next decade. Tkachuk has been Mr. Clutch for the Blues and could garner support for the Hart Trophy. Doan and Ladislav Nagy form an excellent left side for the Coyotes, but they aren't getting a lot of help offensively. Tanguay caught fire early to leap into the scoring lead, but he has cooled off lately and will welcome Forsberg's return to the lineup. And Shanahan has overcome a terrible start to score 14 goals in the past 26 games.
1. Brett Hull, Detroit
Cracking the All-Star lineup as a right wing in the West may be the toughest of any position in either conference, as evidenced by the fact that the past two goal-scoring leaders aren't in the top four. Hejduk and Iginla are both having solid seasons, but the 39-year-old Hull is showing the younger guys he still has some life left in his old body. Palffy has carried the Kings' offensively with Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh still out of the lineup. Bertuzzi isn't dominating like he should, but he gets mauled by defensemen every night and his plus-20 is second best in the NHL. Guerin has been the Stars' offensive savior with Modano struggling and Jere Lehtinen out for most of the season.
1. Rob Blake, Colorado *
Lidstrom may be the three-time defending Norris Trophy winner, but Blake and Pronger have been better so far this season and could end Lidstrom's run. Jovanovski and Ohlund both have been terrific in all three zones, moving the puck forward to the Canucks' speedy forwards as well as helping keep the crease clear in front of Dan Cloutier. Visnovsky has been a force on the power play while also excelling in the defensive end, something the Kings have needed with Aaron Miller having missed 16 games. Schneider surprisingly has outscored Lidstrom so far, while also tying Jason Woolley for a Red Wings team-best plus-17. Foote and Regehr and top-notch defensive defensemen who are rarely recognized with spots in the All-Star Game. And Timonen has been more consistent than the Predators' offensive specialist Marek Zidlicky, who has cooled significantly after a fast start.
1. David Aebischer, Colorado (not on ballot)
The ballot in the West has been made nearly moot by the strong play of three netminders who aren't even on the ballot. While Turco is likely to hang onto the starting spot, Aebischer and Osgood are more worthy. Turco had an impressive seven-game run of allowing one or fewer goals, but his struggles early in the season are a big reason why the Stars were in such a deep hole. Aebischer has done for the Avs what Turco did last year, step in as a first-year starter while offering little dropoff from the Hall of Famer he replaced. Osgood may be having his best season, especially when you consider that Al MacInnis has been out since mid-October with an eye injury. Roloson's 1.87 goals-against average and .933 are both superb, but his 8-8-4 record is ordinary and he'll probably be on the outside looking in when reserves are chosen. Kiprusoff and Toskala are two of the biggest surprises in the NHL, as both were backups to Evgeni Nabokov before getting their chances to start. One reason the Flames are a safe bet to end their seven-year playoff drought has been the amazing play of Kiprusoff since he was acquired from San Jose. And while Toskala filled in brilliantly while Nabokov was out, Nabby is healthy again and playing well and looks to have seized the No. 1 spot back from Toskala.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com.