Which Sabres players should go to the All-Star game?
With a big improvement in talent from previous seasons, there are a few players from the Sabres who should get serious All-Star consideration.
The holidays are a time for family and friends to get together to share the joy, love, and giving spirit of the season. But the holidays are also home to another time-honored tradition that comes about when you see people once a year - pointless and annoying arguments.
With a break in the Buffalo Sabres schedule for the holidays, let's dive in to one of the NHL's favorite arguments - which players should be in the All-Star game?
Before we get to the Sabres players that have a chance to make the team, here's a refresher on the new rules and regulations for how players will be chosen for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.
- The format this year is all 3-on-3, just like this season's OT rules, but instead of two teams there will be four, each made up of players from the NHL's four divisions. So the Sabres players will only have to beat out their fellow divisional competition to make Team Atlantic Division.
- Each team will have six forwards, three defensemen, and two goaltenders, in addition to whatever position the fan-voted team captain plays. At this point, that looks like an extra defenseman for the Atlantic Division as PK Subban and Erik Karlsson are the leading vote getters behind Jaromir Jagr, who has already said he doesn't want to participate. Every NHL team will have at least one representative for the game, so Buffalo is guaranteed at least one entry.
- The four teams will each play a 20-minute game, and the winners of those two games will play another 20-minute game in the finals. Ties are broken via shootout.
Got it? Now that we've got the rules down, let's take a look at each position and see which players from the Sabres have a shot to make the team.
Ryan O'Reilly is the Sabres best chance to be an All-Star, and should be a lock for the Atlantic Division. He sits fifth in the division among forwards in points, first in ice time, first in faceoff percentage among those who regularly draw, and second in power play points. He plays important roles on both the power play and penalty kill, and has been a consistent point producer this season for Buffalo. He's the closest thing Buffalo has to a sure fire All-Star.
With only six forwards from each division making the roster, the only other forward I could see with even a small chance would be Jack Eichel, and even then it would be far more publicity stunt than honor. Yes, Eichel does have some highlight-reel goals to his name, but he's the second highest scoring Sabres forward and yet sits at 36th in the division. With big names like Bergeron, Krejci, Stamkos, Pacioretty, Ryan, Jagr, and Zetterberg all sitting well above any other Sabre in points, I can't see any forward besides O'Reilly on the team.
The Sabres have another strong candidate to make the roster on defense with Rasmus Ristolainen. Risto sits third in the Atlantic with 24 points, trailing only Subban and Karlsson, who are both locks and possibly captains. He's also third in ice time, third in goals, first in power play goals, and is a budding star in the middle of a breakout season, the perfect time to feature him on a national stage. With only three blueliners per division, the list will be short, but Ristolainen should be on it.
The biggest reason I could see him being left off would be name recognition, with players like Chara, Hedman, Ekblad, and Markov also having nice seasons. However, none of them have racked up the numbers that Ristolainen has, and only Chara comes close in terms of minutes played. This is less sure than O'Reilly, but I think Risto deserves to be an All-Star this year.
Nobody else really comes close, though Cody Franson is 13th in the division with 12 points among defensemen.
However, when we analyze further, Chad Johnson actually has some decent numbers, ranking ninth in the division with a .918 save percentage, seventh with nine wins, and sixth in the Atlantic with a 2.31 save percentage, while Linus Ullmark sits outside the top ten in all of those categories. But since only two goalies make the roster per division, there's really no chance here for Buffalo with Reimer, Bishop, and Luongo all having strong seasons.
What do you think, Sabres fans? Does anyone besides O'Reilly and Ristolainen have a chance of making the Atlantic Division team? Are either of those two a lock for you? Let us know in the comments.