NHL All-Star Game 2018: Breaking down the worst snubs, best 3-on-3 combinations

Complete NHL All-Star Game rosters were announced amid little fanfare Wednesday (is this thing on?), giving us three weeks to debate which of the four divisions is most loaded with talent when we could be dreaming about all the tantalizing line combinations headed to Pyeongchang.

It’s not the Olympics, sure, but there’s still something cool about Auston Matthews setting up Nikita Kucherov on a one-timer or Sidney Crosby skating alongside Alex Ovechkin.

MORE: How the 2018 Olympics might’ve looked with NHL players

This year’s rosters are a little bizarre, though. We’ve got Marc-Andre Fleury, he of 12 starts in an injury-shortened season, over John Gibson and Martin Jones in the Pacific net, a Metro defense that doesn’t include Washington’s John Carlson, Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere or Columbus’ Zach Werenski, and an Atlantic team that’s almost literally half Lightning, an obvious ode to the host of this year’s festivities. 

And while there’s no reason to get up in arms about snubbed players who couldn’t care less about playing in an all-star game anyway, the absence of Phil Kessel, the East’s biggest omission, and Vladimir Tarasenko, his counterpart in the West, feels all wrong.

Look, it’s a gimmick event. 

If nothing else, the NHL’s three-on-three All-Star Game tournament allows for maximum creativity, showmanship and personality, a rare combination in today’s NHL, so we might as well make the most of it. And the skills competition is always appointment viewing, even if neither Jaromir Jagr nor John Scott will be there.

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Here’s a refresher on the format: For the third year, the NHL will conduct its familiar four-team tournament. The Atlantic and Metropolitan teams will play each other to determine the finals representative from the Eastern Conference, and the Central and Pacific teams will face off to decide the Western Conference winner. Each game will be played in two 10-minute halves, with the winners facing off in a championship game that night.

The NHL has a dumb mandate that each team must be represented, rather than take the 11 best players for each team, which is why Mike Green exists on an otherwise juggernaut Atlantic squad.

There’s going to be a lot of open space out there, so the players with speedy, shifty styles will thrive. Without further ado, let’s take a look at which team can put together the scariest three-on-three combinations. Be warned: This is not an exercise for a faint-of-heart goalie.

MORE: How to watch the 2018 NHL All-Star Game

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Atlantic Division

Forwards

Steven Stamkos, Lightning
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
Jack Eichel, Sabres
Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
Brad Marchand, Bruins
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

Defense

Mike Green, Red Wings
Victor Hedman, Lightning
Erik Karlsson, Senators

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning
Carey Price, Canadiens

​The skinny: ​As likely as it is Lightning teammates Kucherov and Stamkos will play alongside one another in front of the home crowd (they’ve been 1-2 in the NHL’s points race all season, after all) it’ll be a missed opportunity to showcase Matthews with arguably the NHL’s best goal scorer (Kucherov) and best defenseman (Karlsson). It’s pretty much assumed Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and Vasilevskiy will take the ice first.

Eichel, making his first All-Star Game appearance, and Marchand trained together in the offseason and are obvious partners. 

In any event, this team is stacked. As long as it takes down the Metro in the semis, it should be the favorite for the $1 million prize the NHL throws in as incentive to bring players together. It almost makes us forget Mike Green is an All-Star for the first time since 2010.

MORE: The evolution of Auston Matthews

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Metropolitan Division

Forwards

Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals
Josh Bailey, Islanders
Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Claude Giroux, Flyers
Taylor Hall, Devils
John Tavares, Islanders

Defense

Noah Hanifin, Hurricanes
Seth Jones, Blue Jackets
Kris Letang, Penguins

Goalies

Braden Holtby, Capitals
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers

The skinny: This would have been an unstoppable forward group in the 2014 All-Star Game. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a dynamic lineup packed with perennial all-stars and several all-time greats. Ovechkin is once again lightning up the NHL at 32 and the Islanders’ dynamic duo of Tavares and Bailey is one of the best. But … wait, what’s up with the defense? Jones is fantastic, but Letang ranks 13th in scoring among NHL defensemen and Hanifin isn’t even the best blueliner on his own team.

Crosby got in over Kessel, who actually leads the Penguins with 47 points, because he’s Sidney Crosby. And what’s an All-Star Game without Sidney Crosby? (Uh …) Even Crosby himself said he preferred if Kessel would go ahead of him, but alas.

MORE: Alex Ovechkin, 32, ages into goal-scoring glory at historic pace

“I mean … Phil’s had a really good first half,” Crosby said before the announcement, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There’s been a lot of guys within our division that have had some great first halves here so far: Tavares, Bailey and Ovechkin. These guys are all right at the top of the scoring race. I haven’t given it any thought, only because of that. I just don’t expect to be going.”

We digress.

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Central Division

Forwards

Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche
Brayden Schenn, Blues
Tyler Seguin, Stars
Eric Staal, Wild
Blake Wheeler, Jets

Defense

P.K. Subban, Predators
John Klingberg, Stars
Alex Pietrangelo, Blues

Goalies

Connor Hellebuyck, Jets
Pekka Rinne, Predators

The skinny: The Vladimir Tarasenko snub came down to choosing between him and Schenn, but it shouldn’t have. Both are equally deserving and have identical stats — 44 points through 46 games — while leading arguably the NHL’s most dominant line. Even though the breakout Blues have cooled off, the absence of Taraensko’s firepower in this event is baffling. 

In his place we get Eric Staal, who’s having another fine season, but he’s no Tarasenko. No arguments with the always underrated Blake Wheeler and Nathan MacKinnon, who has almost single-handedly revitalized the Avalanche offense and is near the top of the NHL points leaderboard.

The Central’s defense includes a pair of possible Norris finalists in P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo, which is good except no one plays defense in all-star games. Sorry, Connor Hellebuyck and Pekka Rinne.

MORE: Marchessault slips through the cracks into starring role with Golden Knights

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Pacific Division

Forwards

Connor McDavid, Oilers
Brock Boeser, Canucks
Johnny Gaudreau, Flames
Anze Kopitar, Kings
James Neal, Golden Knights
Rickard Rakell, Ducks

Defense

Brent Burns, Sharks
Drew Doughty, Kings
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes

Goalies

Marc-Andre Fleury, Golden Knights
Jonathan Quick, Kings

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