Saturday, June 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: No all-stars are more deserving than the Lightning’s Fab Four

TAMPA — The host with the most.

The NHL All-Star Game is headed our way, and so is the Fab Four.

"Fab Four, eh," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said, smiling.

You heard me.

It has been a Lightning season thus far, so it makes absolute sense that the best team in hockey gets to dominate the show, with four selections on the Atlantic Division roster.

The Fab Four will be all over this game — Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Or maybe they won’t. Hedman went down with an apparent knee injury in Thursday’s game against Calgary. It didn’t look good. There wasn’t much smiling. A troubling moment.

Back to the Fab Four …

"At first glance, people might say Tampa has four guys in the game because it’s hosting," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You look at the year that ‘Stammer’ and ‘Kuch’ have had. Look at the stat pack and Hedman has been all over the place. And what else can you say about Vasilevskiy?"

Cooper, the Atlantic coach, isn’t so bad himself.

Yes, I think All-Star Games are goofy. If I had my way, these four would be playing for their mother countries in next month’s Olympics. Real hockey.

But is there really anything wrong with this? And it makes sense. No team in hockey has won more than the Lightning. And no team in hockey has more All-Stars. The Fab Four beats anyone out there. Why, even UCF only got three guys in.

These four are the talk of the town. They’ll be the headliners here for the Jan. 28 game. I can’t think of anyone more deserving than this franchise’s anchors.

Give me a star goalie (Vasilevskiy). Give me a two-way star on defense (Hedman). Give me a No. 1 center, a generational scorer, a captain, a leader (Stamkos). Give me a dazzler, another generational scorer, who isn’t such a bad leader himself (Kucherov).

Give me anchors.

Kucherov is my front-runner for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He’s a 100-point wonder. Stamkos will contend for the Hart and for comeback player of the year. Hedman will be in the running for the Norris Trophy for top defenseman. And having said all that, Vasilevskiy is the Lightning’s most important player.

Let’s party.

Think Stamkos isn’t glad he came back to play for this team? It’s the best in the league, and it’s the best at this All-Star Game. "The stars are aligning, that’s for sure," Stamkos said.

Where in the sky do you point to first? With Kucherov? Try 27 goals and 60 points entering Thursday’s game against the Flames. Stamkos? 17 goals and 52 points. Hedman? 33 points and plus-24. Vasilevskiy? A 2.33 goals against, a .933 save percentage — and 27 wins.

Here is the core of four. In old Lightning days, it was Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Marty St. Louis and Dan Boyle. It’s a new day.

Forget about building an all-star squad. If I was putting together any kind of hockey team, I know what I’d want: a great goalie, a great defenseman and two great scorers. It’s just what I’d want if I was going for the Cup. I’d take that combination and go play anyone anywhere. "It’s definitely a recipe for success," Stamkos said.

Best of all: Stamkos turns 28 next month, Hedman is 27, Kucherov is 24 and Vasilevskiy is 23.

This All-Star Game is their show as much as anything. This All-Star Game is a tribute to the work of these four Bolts. And they didn’t just hop over the boards to get here.

Stamkos, marked for greatness when he hit the NHL, has had to overcome injuries and also decide if he wanted to remain with the franchise after the 2015-16 season, when he could be a free agent. Now look.

When Hedman hit the league and made mistakes, people questioned if he belonged.

Now look.

Kucherov, when he was younger, was labeled as unpolished and slow on the work ethic. He was once a healthy scratch during the playoffs.

Now look.

Vasilevskiy? He only had Ben Bishop’s skates to fill.

Now look.

Here comes the All-Star Game. Just like all season. Here comes the Fab Four.

Maybe Cooper will throw them on the ice together to give the home fans a jolt of Bolts.

"It’s up to him, but I sure hope he has that in mind," Hedman said.

Provided Hedman can go.

Nothing is ever perfect, is it?

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