The annual NHL All-Star game takes place this year on January 28th in Tampa Bay, Florida. After the league changed the format of the game to 3-on-3, there are rumours the NHL is tweaking the Skills Competition to make it more about individual skill. One rumour that’s circulating is of the NHL adding sensors to targets in the shooting competition – players will not be able to choose which target to hit. It’s a slight change to an event that, frankly, hadn’t been all that interesting in the first place.

Let’s be blunt: the NHL All-Star Game has become the NHL’s annual joke. It is no secret the NHL players use this weekend as a vacation rather than attending. Players that do attend typically don’t seem interested in simple things like “effort” or “giving the fans their money’s worth”. The tournament – if you can even call it that – looks like roughly the laziest game of 3-on-3 pond hockey ever. It’s a Milan Lucic level of effort. Hell, the all-star game makes Lucic look like the hardest working player in the world, as opposed to simply a bear on skates.

At the very least, we can all be happy that Kid Rock himself will headline the intermission entertainment; if there’s one thing that could have possibly enticed me to watch the All Star Game, it’s a washed-up redneck.

As with any sport, however, it caused an argument in the Win Column writers room; which All-Star team stood the best chance at winning the tournament’s million dollar prize?

Western Conference:

Pacific Division

Connor McDavid (Oilers), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Johnny Gaudreau (Flames), Anze Kopitar (Kings), James Neal (Golden Knights), Rickard Rakell (Ducks), Brent Burns (Sharks), Drew Doughty (Kings), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Coyotes), Marc-Andre Fleury (Golden Knights), Jonathan Quick, (Kings)
Head Coach: Gerard Gallant, Las Vegas Golden Knights

Headlined by Connor McDavid, the NHL’s Pacific Division features a wide array of talent with varying degrees of difficult-to-pronounce names. Brock Boeser and Rickard Rakell will make their ASG debuts this weekend, while a homeless man officially representing Brent Burns will play in his fifth.

Inexplicably not invited for his second ASG was former MVP John Scott, the rugged enforcer of the (formerly Phoenix) Coyotes. One can’t help but be shocked that he’s not returning after his multi-goal performance in 2016, but this isn’t a fairy tale.

I’m thrilled to see three names from the NHL-leading (at the time of this writing) Golden Knights; while Marc-Andre Fleury had been injured for a portion of the season, James Neal has been a huge part of the 1st-year squad’s success. Head coach Gerrard Gallant is one of the top minds in the league, and is equally as deserving of his second All-Star selection.

As an Oilers fan, I’ll personally be rooting for the Pacific Division, with Connor McDavid scoring 15 points and Johnny Gaudreau scoring none.

Central Division

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Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Nathan MacKinnon (Avalanche) Brayden Schenn (Blues), Tyler Seguin (Stars), Eric Staal (Wild), Blake Wheeler (Jets), John Klingberg (Stars), Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), P.K. Subban (Predators), Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), Pekka Rinne (Predators)
Head Coach: Peter Laviolette NSH (3rd)

There’s a few things that definitely surprised me about this roster; firstly, I’m shocked that this represents Alex Pietrangelo‘s first ASG appearance. The St. Louis Blues captain has been a stud for years, and has been regarded as one of the best defensemen in the league. He’s also my pick to be named NHL Player Most Likely to be a Pasta at this year’s annual awards in Vegas.

It was also shocking to see Eric Staal as Minnesota’s selection to the mid-season classic. The eldest Staal brother has experienced a career resurgence since moving on from the New York Rangers over two years ago, and has really grown into his own since playing without a brother for the first time in over three years.

Outside of names like Patrick Kane and P.K. Subban, the Central division may be one of the least-known rosters in recent ASG history. That’s not a knock on the quality of the players, however; it simply says that younger stars are now at the points in their career where they’re able to shine. For example, a name like Brayden Schenn wouldn’t have made it onto most pundit’s all-star rosters at the start of the season. While I don’t believe that they’ll win the ASG tournament, I’m certainly interested in how the Central Division fares against their more well-known counterparts.

Eastern Conference:

Metropolitan Division

Doug Lakusta | wincolumnsports.ca
Aleksander Barkov (Panthers), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Nikita Kucherov (Lightning), Brad Marchand (Bruins), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs), Steven Stamkos (Lightning), Mike Green (Red Wings), Victor Hedman (Lightning), Erik Karlsson (Senators), Carey Price (Canadiens), Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning)
Head Coach: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Lead by Steven Stamkos, the home team advantage is in the Metropolitan division. With three other Tampa Bay Lighting players, the chemistry will be alive. Andrei Vasilevskiy (27-2-0, 930 SV %) is having a stellar season after taking the job from Ben Bishop, and with Carey Price, (13-15-4, 0.908 SV %) as a side kick, the net is loaded.

Scoring should come easy on a team with this many elite snipers, actually the whole team is a god send for shooting the puck. Look for Brad Marchand to make some greasy plays and score right after.

Atlantic Division

Doug Lakusta | wincolumnsports.ca
Josh Bailey (Islanders), Sidney Crosby (Penguins), Claude Giroux (Flyers), Taylor Hall (Devils), Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), John Tavares (Islanders), Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Seth Jones (Blue Jackets), Kris Letang (Penguins), Braden Holtby (Capitals), Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)
Head Coach: Barry Trotz, Capitals

Captain and NHL All-Star veteran Alex Ovechkin makes his 7th appearance, and is the Captain on the Atlantic Division. Fun Fact: Taylor Hall has never lost an All-Star game. With four Captains in Ovechkin, Crosby, Giroux and Tavares, look for this squad to bring the leadership voucher to the game.

Nice to see Josh Bailey, and Noah Hanifin slide in to fill out this squad. Both have shown they can compete in the NHL and are good rookies to play the game.

Doug’s Team to Win: Atlantic Division

Spencer’s Team to Win: Pacific Division

That’s our preview! Thoughts, NHL fans? Will you be watching this year’s ASG? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, or at @WCSportsCA!

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An In-Depth Look into Each All-Star Team

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