If anyone needed a catalyst to restart the debate about taking the All-Star voting away from the fans, we got it on Tuesday with the release of the six players who were the top vote-getters in the fan balloting and guaranteed spots in this month's All-Star Game in Raleigh: forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jonathan Toews, defensemen Kris Letang and Duncan Keith and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Four Penguins and two Blackhawks.
Really? no Steven Stamkos? The player who is second in the league with 31 goals and 56 points, is tied for the league lead with six winning goals, who leads the league with 13 power play goals? Not to take anything away from Toews or Malkin, but their stats and what they have meant to their teams this season are not even close to what Stamkos has done for Tampa Bay.
The fans in Pittsburgh and Chicago clearly cared enough to stuff the ballot box, and good for them. And certainly the league will add Stamkos and perhaps Marty St. Louis to the remaining 36 All-Star spots available. Still, when fans vote for Malkin and Toews ahead of Stamkos, they are voting simply for the sake of voting.
Yes, it's a game for the fans, but it also is supposed to be a representation of the league's best players in a particular season. Without Stamkos, the six players chosen by the fans do not reflect that.
Here were the top-six vote-getters: Crosby, Penguins, 635,509; Letang, Penguins, 477,960; Fleury, Penguins, 426,305; Toews, Blackhawks, 407,676; Keith, Blackhawks, 382,162; Malkin, Penguins, 376,887.
And just FYI, St. Louis was 26th among forwards with 78,622.
Other stuff from the morning: As was reported yesterday, Dwayne Roloson gets the start in net for the Lightning. ... Also, as expected, Steve Downie returns after missing 13 games with a high ankle sprain. He will be on a line with center Dominic Moore and wing Teddy Purcell. Downie also will have some power play duties. ... Defenseman Randy Jones will miss his third game out of the past four because of a neck/shoulder injury. ... Left wing Mattias Ritola appears as if he will be scratched. ... Goaltender Mike Smith skated in full equipment for the first time since sustaining a left-knee sprain during the Dec. 20 morning skate. He also took shots for the first time, though the workout was very controlled. Smith said he felt good but is unsure if he will participate in a full practice on Friday, the next day Tampa Bay is scheduled to work out. That said, Smith acknowledged having three goalies on the roster "is not ideal" and said he realizes the team cannot possibly keep all of them long-term; there will either be a trade or someone will get put on waivers and shipped to the minors. All of which makes the next time Smith is in net that much more important. "Opportunity is always important, but with the situation we have here now, it's a lot more important. I know I'm probably going to get another chance. I've just got to take advantage of it." ... Dan Ellis, who will be Roloson's backup until Smith is ready and there is some sort of rotation, said he has known Roloson since he was in college and the two had the same agent. He even worked out one summer with Roloson at his home, so Ellis said he is looking at the situation as a positive and a way to learn from a veteran. "There's a lot of ways to look at a situation like this," Ellis said. "You can be negative about things, but I think you have to continue to better yourself every day, and part of that is learning by a veteran's example." Asked if he felt bad general manager Steve Yzerman decided the team needed help in net, Ellis said, "All that stuff is kind of out of your control. That's the decision Steve has made and you can't worry about those things. To figure out what they're thinking or why they did this or feel sorry for yourself doesn't do any good for you. The best approach is to learn from the situation and learn from the past and try to better yourself for the future. The goal doesn' change. You're still a goaltender with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and your job is still to stop the puck when you're given a chance." ... As for what will be a competition between the three goalies for playing time, Smith said, the bottom line stays the same. "You never hope another goalie on your team does bad," he said. "We're in this together. It's fun to win. It's not fun to come to the rink when you're not doing well and losing games. We've been through that before here. Whether it's Rollie, Ellie or myself it's important to stay positive and have a good attitude about it. It's out of my control. Whatever happens, it happens for a reason. The main thing is to keep pa positive mind and be a good teammate." ... At minus-18, Moore is 769th among 775 players listed by the NHL. At minus-16, left wing Simon Gagne is 767th. Neither player says they worry too much about the stat since it is so dependent on what other players are doing when they are on the ice. Still, Moore said, "I'm not happy about it, but you kind of work through it the best you can." Coach Guy Boucher said he flat out does not worry about the league's plus/minus numbers. He said the team does its own plus/minus evaluation that rewards players with a plus who have a direct impact on a goal and only gives a minus when a player's mistake leads to an opposition goal. "We look at every scoring chance we get," Boucher said. "Did he contribute? If he's on the ice and did not contribute he's not getting a plus." ... Purcell has zero points in five games. "I still feel like I'm skating well," he said. "I'm getting chances. It's just one of those things. I can't seem to buy (a goal) right now." ... Funny story: when center Nate Thompson was named the game's No. 1 star of Saturday's overtime victory over the Rangers, a piece of tape mysteriously covered his name plate at his locker. Written on the tape was the name Nate Boucher, a tribute to how well Thompson has bought into Boucher's game plan. "I like it because it just reminds him he's the standard for a lot of things," Boucher said. "He's the standard for work ethic, he's the standard for paying the price and being reliable defensively and being first on the puck and many other things. If my boy grows up to be looking like him, I'll be fine."