At the quarter pole of the season, we should be able to narrow down the ballots from roughly 1,000 players to a few from each division.
Let's start in Middle America, where the decision should be pretty unanimous. Patrick Kane has been destroying the NHL at a level that makes you think he should get called up to the next league above the NHL. But there isn't a next league up, and he's outperforming the most talented players in the world every night.
He's currently riding a 20 game point streak, and is leading the league with 23 assists and 38 points (he's also second in goals, with 15). His game is also tailor-made for the 3-on-3 format, and he's almost undoubtedly going to be the MVP of the whole thing at the end.
You could make a case for Jamie Benn or Tyler Seguin to captain this team, or Kane's teammate Jonathan Toews, but this is really Patrick Kane's spot and I think we all know that.
Let's stay in the West, and talk about the Decidedly Less Good Pacific Division. Vancouver's Daniel Sedin and Edmonton's Taylor Hall are the only guys in the divison that are top ten in the league in points. Sedin, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and the Sharks' Joe Pavelski are in the top ten in the league in goals. The only goalie in the top ten for save percentage or goals against average is Colorado's Reto Berra (to his credit, though, San Jose's Martin Jones is tied for the league lead with 3 shutouts).
As far as forwards go, nobody is more fun to watch (3-on-3) in the Pacific than the Flames' Johnny Gaudreau. Like Kane, he's tailor-made for the open ice, and he's been a fan favorite for as long as he's been in the league. Arizona Coyote Max Domi, another Fan Favorite Young Gun, is probably too young to deserve it but will get a bunch of votes.
I don't know if we want a defenseman captaining the team, but if that's where we are looking then it would go to either Los Angeles' Drew Doughty or San Jose's Brent Burns.
Arizona's Shane Doan or San Jose's Patrick Marleau or Joe Thornton could be given the nod as a lifetime achievement award, but I think they'd really just prefer the time off.
My vote goes to Gaudreau, but this one is wide open.
Back to the East, where the Atlantic divison captaincy is a pretty hotly contested vote. The top candidates:
- Montreal's Max Pacioretty, PK Subban, and Carey Price
- Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos
- Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Dylan Larkin
- Buffalo's Jack Eichel
- Florida's Jaromir Jagr
- Ottawa's Erik Karlsson
- Nobody from the Bruins
- Nobody from the Maple Leafs
This is a complete toss up for me. Part of me would love to see Larkin or Eichel thrust into the spotlight, but then I think that Stamkos or somebody from the Habs probably deserves it more.
If you're going to put a gun to my head, I'm going with Jagr. Partially as one of the aforementioned lifetime achievement awards, but primarily because he is a treasure and we need to cherish him as much as we can before we lose him forever.
There is so much star power in the Metro (and we know so much about all of the teams) that we're going to have to set some ground rules for this captain role:
- No rookies or youngsters
- No defensemen or goalies
- Nobody who isn't the best player on their own team
- Nobody that won't be electric in the 3-on-3 setting
By my judgment, that leaves us with five names to choose from. Let's go a little more in-depth.
Claude Giroux, Flyers
Let's lead with the best captain in hockey. He's well-suited for just about any hockey situation and his competitive nature is something the league really wants to inject into this All-Star tournament. Of course he's my pick, but I don't expect the general public to support G. Hence I have included a few other less good choices.
John Tavares, Islanders
Similar to Giroux, Tavares seems to be good at just about everything. He also has (half of) the New York market backing him. This is a conversation for another time, but comparing G and Johnny as captains and as hockey players would lead to a very interesting commentary on what we value from the traditional Captain/First Line Center role.
Mats Zuccarello, Rangers
The Speedy Little Ranger will succeed on the open ice, and he should be joining Hank Lundqvist on the All-Star roster, but I'm including him here just so I can note that he's better than everybody else on the Rangers.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
He has to end up getting the letter, right? I mean he's everyone's favorite player to watch - except for maybe Kane recently - and he was a huge hit at last year's All-Star Weekend. He's arguably the most offensively talented player in the division, and his occasional lapses on defenses are what make the 3-on-3 so fun to watch.
My 2016 NHL All-Star Ballot: