I understand the controversy that comes with all-star games. Whether it's the NHL, MLB, NBA or even MLS, there will be players that end up on the outside looking in and fans that believe their hometown team should have had more all-stars.
The NHL's all-star weekend is a great experience for fans, but in recent years the games have become boring and even the playground style picking of players has not been able to spice it up. The last time a check was thrown in an all-star game was over seven years ago by Jeremy Roenick.
It is no secret the all-star festivities are meant to cater to sponsors and for the NHL to shine on a national stage, but this prevents the players who merit the honor of being named to an all-star off the rosters and superstars who are having down years left on (see Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane). Big market players and those that have name recognition with fans will always get the nod over lets say, a Radim Vrbata or Ray Whitney.
Vrbata is having one of the best, if not the best, season of his career. His 38 points puts him only 18 behind his career high and his 22 goals make him only five short of setting another career mark. Vrbata's 22 goals also puts him 8th in the NHL. Until Jonathan Toews had a scoring outburst of four goals in three games from Jan.14-18th, Vrbata was tied for the lead in the Western Conference in goals scored. Yes, you read that right. A player from the blue collar Phoenix Coyotes lead the conference in goals.
Not only has Vrbata been scoring goals, but he has been scoring meaningful goals. 15 of Vrbata's goals have come in wins and five have been game winners. This is without mentioning how clutch the Coyotes Czech sniper has been in shootouts. He has made four of seven attempts this year, most on his patented forehand to backhand move that usually leaves the opposing goalies jockstraps somewhere in the rafters.
Ray Whitney is another Coyote that may have been deserving of an all-star nod, but the 19-year veteran who has been nicknamed "The Wizard" for his otherworldly passing ability, feels like Vrbata should have made the trip to Ottawa. "He's a natural goal scorer, and what those guys do best they know where to go to score a goal," Whitney said of Vrbata. " ... He has a good shot. He has a quick release. He knows where to put it. He goes to a spot to get open, and if you give him the puck, there's a good chance it's going in. Those guys are few and far between in the league." This year Whitney has 14 goals, 25 assist and leads the team with a plus-11 rating.
Defenseman Keith Yandle ended up being the Coyote's only all-star and was surprised that neither Whitney or Vrbata would be making the trip with him. "I thought both (Whitney and Vrbata) were coming," Yandle said prior to the Coyotes home game with Colorado. "These guys are having great seasons and should be recognized."
OEL has come into his own this year and has become the player the Coyotes hoped he would be. The defenseman, who is not even old enough to drink alcohol legally in the United States, has been a force on defense for the 'Yotes. But not only has he been standout on defense for the Coyotes, he has proved to be an asset on offense. Coach Dave Tippet has even used the Swedish youngster in shootouts. It could even be argued that OEL has been more valuable to the Coyotes than Yandle.
It is understandable why Mike Smith was not selected, but it would have been a nice surprise for Coyote fans. After posting a 12-4-3 record through the first two months of the season Smith had Coyote fans saying "Ilya who?" Smith was a top ten goalie in every major category through November. Then December rolled around. Smith would post a 3-6-0 record with a 3.53 goals against average and a groin injury sustained on Dec.20th would bring an abrupt end to the terrible month for the Coyote goaltender. Smith has given the Coyotes a chance to win in almost every one of his starts this year, but an all-star nomination would have been a long shot.
The Coyotes are a team that live and die by playing as a unit and getting distributed scoring. For the 'Yotes to have multiple all-stars would have been a real feat, especially considering where they play; however, there is no doubt Vrbata and Whitney were completely deserving of being named all-stars in 2012.