Burning questions about the NHLs bright lights this season:
Question: The complete All-Star rosters will be announced Thursday. Which of the Wings will be joining Nicklas Lidstrom in St. Paul, Minn., for the All-Star Game on Feb. 8?
Answer: Hey, dont forget Dave Lewis. Hell be there, too, as head coach of the Western Conference team. And if that doesnt quiet the peanut gallery those who a couple months ago were predicting Scotty Bowman would come out of retirement to save the Wings then nothing will.
Q: True enough, but what about the players?
A: The first one is obvious: Pavel Datsyuk, even if the NHL didnt see fit to include him and several other likely All-Stars on the fan ballots this fall.
Through Sundays games, the Wings lone remaining Russian was seventh in the NHL in scoring, averaging a point a game and drawing rave reviews from around the league. In a recent Hockey News poll of players one from each team Datsyuk was tied with New Jerseys Martin Brodeur for first-half MVP honors.
I dont know where Detroit would be without him, said Dallas goaltender Marty Turco, who will start for the Western Conference in St. Paul.
Datsyuk, only 25, already is one of the leagues best playmakers just ask Brett Hull but hes also tops among the leagues leading scorers in shooting percentage, scoring on one of every four shots this season, and he leads the league in takeaways. Hes a shoo-in for an All-Star berth.
Q: So much for missing Sergei Fedorov, huh?
A: Maybe, but Datsyuk cant take all the credit for that. Kris Draper deserves an equal share, and an All-Star appearance as well.
Draper already surpassed his career high with 19 goals tied for 10th in the NHL and hes tied for third in the league with a plus-21 rating. Not bad for a checking-line center whose primary duty involves disrupting other teams top scoring lines. If Draper keeps it up, hell be a Selke Trophy finalist.
You just look at what hes done, Lewis said. Hes one of the top scorers in the league and he hasnt sacrificed any defense at all. He still blocks shots, he wins face-offs. This is a career year for him right now.
Q: Sounds like Lewis is doing a little campaigning there. Who makes the final call on the rosters?
A: The fans vote for the starters, and thats only fair: Theyre the ones paying $100 a ticket at the arenas. But its mostly a popularity contest, much as it is with Major League Baseballs midsummer classic, and that explains why Mike Modano, suffering through one of his worst seasons, will start the game.
The All-Star reserves two goalies, four defensemen and nine forwards for each conference are chosen by Colin Campbell and the NHLs hockey operations department with input from all 30 NHL general managers. Tune in to ESPNs NHL broadcast Thursday night to find out who made the cut.
Q: Who would make your All-Star list for the West team?
A: Id add Chris Osgood (St. Louis) and David Aebischer (Colorado) in goal, with apologies to hometown favorite Dwayne Roloson (Minnesota) and Thomas Vokoun (Nashville), both of whom do as much or more with less from their teammates. Still, while Osgood and the Blues are slumping of late, he was arguably the best in the West for the seasons first three months. Calgarys Mikka Kiprusoff deserves a berth, too, but hes out with a knee injury.
On defense, Id go with Chris Pronger (St. Louis), Mathieu Schneider (Detroit), Adam Foote (Colorado) and Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver). The first two are top Norris Trophy candidates, but Foote and Ohlund simply dont get enough credit.
Up front, theres a handful of easy choices: Markus Naslund is an MVP candidate, while Datsyuk, Joe Sakic (Colorado), Alex Tanguay (Colorado) and Rick Nash (Columbus) are among the NHLs scoring leaders. Along with Draper, Id add Shane Doan (Phoenix), Keith Tkachuk (St. Louis) and Patrick Marleau (San Jose). Phoenixs Ladislav Nagy and Calgarys Jarome Iginla also are deserving.
Q: What about the Eastern Co.ference reserves?
A: My choices behind Brodeur would be Jose Theodore (Montreal) and Roberto Luongo (Florida) over Ottawas Patrick Lalime or Torontos Ed Belfour.
On the blueline, Id start with an underrated Adrian Aucoin (New York Islanders) as well as Sheldon Souray (Montreal). Ottawas Zdeno Chara also deserves an invitation, as does Torontos Bryan McCabe, rather surprisingly.
Among the forwards, Washingtons Robert Lang leads the NHL in scoring, so hes in along with the Caps Jaromir Jagr, despite their teams awful performance. After all, this is supposed to be entertainment, right? Mats Sundin (Toronto), Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa) and Marian Hossa (Ottawa) also should be on the team.
After that, Id go with Jeremy Roenick (Philadelphia), Patrik Elias (New Jersey), Marc Savard (Atlanta) and perhaps Mark Messier (New York Rangers), who celebrated his 43rd birthday over the weekend but is playing like a kid again and leading the Rangers with 13 goals. Its Messiers 25th NHL season and it might be his last if theres a lockout in the fall.
Q: Last question: When will the All-Stars be coming to Detroit.
A: Not any time soon, unfortunately. It appears the 2005 All-Star Game if there is one is headed to Atlanta. Look for the 2006 game to be in Phoenix, where the Coyotes just opened a new arena. And Dallas is the likely pick for 2007. Detroit may be Hockeytown but lets just say Joe Louis Arena isnt one of the leagues all-star attractions.