Four teams. Three games. One champion. Don’t say it doesn’t mean anything.
OK, so maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s meaningless. But who cares? It’s a collection of the best hockey talent in the world coming together to play between 40-60 minutes on the first football-less Sunday since Labor Day weekend, is there anything better on? So what if the players don’t go as hard after pucks, finish checks, or lay out to block shots.
It begins on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. (ET), when the Central Division faces off against the Pacific Division, which won last year’s first-of-its-kind all-star event, in which the four divisions played a four-team three-on-three tournament that consisted of 20-minute semifinal games followed by a 20-minute final.
So how do the four divisions stack up? Can the Pacific pull the repeat? Well, here’s a little power ranking, to best decide where one another stack up.
1- Central Division. The Central builds itself from the net-out. The best goalie on the planet right now, Devan Dubnyk, leads a strong 1-2 punch alongside Corey Crawford while Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, and Ryan Suter create a dynamic defensive corps in which all three blueliners complement each other really nicely. Plenty of firepower up front with two of the game’s best playmakers in Nathan MacKinnon and Tyler Seguin and three of the best finishers in Patrick Kane, Patrik Laine, and Vladimir Tarasenko. And let’s not forget about Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews.
Best Player: Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk is the best goaltender in the world at the moment.
X-Factor: Nathan MacKinnon. Special player stuck on a bad club, he’s going to shine on Sunday.
2- Atlantic Division. Again, building your team from the net-out is the key to winning hockey. Like the Central, the Atlantic is assembled similarly, with the strongest 1-2 netminder tandem in Carey Price and Tuukka Rask while a strong case can be made for Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, and Shea Weber being the best blue line. Auston Matthews making his all-star debut will be one of the lead storylines of Sunday.
Best player: Auston Matthews. Don’t get started about his age. Nineteen is a just a number. This kid is special.
X-Factor: Frans Nielsen. Fans on Long Island might want to watch something else.
3- Metropolitan Division: Can’t really dog a team that has Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and John Tavares. Cam Atkinson was a late addition after Evgeni Malkin had to pull out with a lower body injury. Atkinson would’ve been a slam dunk selection in any other division. Ryan McDonagh and Justin Faulk are strong on the back end along with Seth Jones, who is a budding star. Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby should be air tight in net.
Best player: Sidney Crosby. The best player in the world who will someday be alongside Orr, Gretzky, and Lemieux of the pantheon of Best Evers.
X-Factor: John Tavares. Seems to be an overlooked for some reason but make no mistake, this guy is a superstar. He’s coming in playing his best hockey of the year, with eight goals and 13 points in eight games going into the break.
4- Pacific Division: The Pacific won it last year and could just as easily win it again. While last year’s hero, Corey Perry (scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over the Atlantic), is absent, the division has the best top-end talent in Connor McDavid (could win the Hart Trophy), Ryan Kesler (should win the Selke Trophy), Brent Burns (will win the Norris Trophy), and Drew Doughty (won the Norris Trophy last season). Jeff Carter, Johnny Gaudreau, Bo Horvat, and Joe Pavelski are all premier playmakers while Cam Fowler is having a career year on the back end. Martin Jones and Mike Smith are feast-or-famine in net.
Best player: Brent Burns. All apologies to Connor McDavid, who many contend is the best player in the world that doesn’t have the last name ‘Crosby’, but Burns is having a downright historic year for a defenseman. He’s a slam dunk for the Norris Trophy and should win the Hart.
X-Factor: Bo Horvat. Quietly having a breakout year for a Vancouver team that is quietly in the thick of the playoff race.