By Allan Muir
When the NHL announces its annual All-Star teams at the league’s awards show in June, it will stick with a formula that rings a bit untrue this season. How, after all, can someone be an All-NHL player if he hasn’t played against the entire NHL?
In coming up with our end-of-regular season honors, we’ve decided that the lockout-abbreviated campaign with its intraconference-only games requires a different take, so our All-NHL teams will be broken down by conference to reflect the unique scheduling.
Here are our Eastern honorees. In case you missed them, our Western winners can be found here.
Center: Sidney Crosby, Penguins
The jaw injury that limited him to just 36 games opened the door to a couple of intriguing candidates here. Ultimately though, this is about the best player at the position, not the most valuable, and when he was on the ice, Crosby operated at a different level — arguably playing the best hockey of his career. His diligent adherence to self-improvement paid off with a quicker, more effective wrist shot and with greater success in the face-off circle. Hard to believe this kid can still get better.
Honorable mention: John Tavares; Steven Stamkos, Lightning
Right wing: Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Accepting a change to the right side revitalized his sagging fortunes and returned him to the top of the scoring charts. Finding his legs (and will) after a slow start, Ovechkin was the prime driver behind a 14-2-1 run that vaulted the Caps from 14th in the East to the Southeast title. His 14 goals in April established a new league mark, setting him up for a third Rocket Richard Trophy and a likely nod as a finalist for the Hart.
Honorable mention: Martin St. Louis, Lightning; Alex Semin, Hurricanes
Left wing: Chris Kunitz, Penguins
It would be easy to write off Kunitz as a modern Warren Young, the proverbial fire hydrant who piled up points strictly as a result of Mario Lemieux’s largesse back in the mid-80s. No doubt it hasn’t hurt him to skate alongside the league’s top center, but Kunitz has earned his success the hard way, battling for loose pucks and precious space in the mosh pit in front of opposing netminders. He finished in the top-10 in goals, points and plus-minus, and he’s been incredibly consistent, too. As long as he gets on the board in the finale, he’ll have gone the entire season without a scoreless streak of more than one game.
Honorable mention: Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg; Rick Nash, Rangers
Defense: PK Subban, Canadiens
The Subban bashers (and there are many) point out that he hasn’t logged the minutes of the league’s top defenders. Fair enough, but that’s not enough to dismiss everything else he’s accomplished this year. The numbers alone stand out: he leads all defenders in goals and points and is first overall in power play points. But what’s really made an impression is his commitment to his overall game that’s seen him minimizing the risk while maximizing the reward, making him the most impactful two-way defender in the East and a legitimate Norris contender.
Defenseman: Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Watching Chara meltdown against the Flyers the other day served as a jarring reminder of just how effortless his game-to-game excellence seems, making it easy to take his peerless physical and mental tools for granted. His offensive numbers are down this year, but there’s still no more imposing presence on the ice…and no defender you’d want out there to protect a lead.
Honorable mention: Kris Letang, Penguins, Andrei Markov, Canadiens
Goaltender: Tuukka Rask, Bruins
He was overshadowed early by Craig Anderson and late by Sergei Bobrovksy, but Rasks’s steady performance as the successor to the iconoclastic Tim Thomas in Boston has been one of the season’s best stories. He’s allowed two goals or fewer in 24 of his 34 appearances, and ranks in the top-three in shutouts (first, with five), save percentage (second, at .931) and GAA (third, at 1.94).
Honorable mention: Craig Anderson, Senators; Evgeni Nabokov, Islanders