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Islanders weigh in on NHL All-Star Game selection format: ‘Just put your best players out there’

Mathew Barzal Islanders NHL All-Star Game
New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal (13) tries to control the puck as he battles Carolina Hurricanes’ Brady Skjei (76) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Is the NHL All-Star Game formatted correctly?

Hockey’s benchmark mid-season event, which will take place in Toronto on Feb. 3, is more exclusive than the NBA All-Star Game, which elects just 24 players out of a possible 450 on active rosters (5.3%).

Consider this: There are 32 teams in the NHL each with a 23-man active roster. That makes 736 players plus the rotation of extra skaters, injury replacements, and third goalies. Yet the All-Star Game features four teams, comprised of 11 players (44 in total) that will be drafted by league-selected captains on the Thursday before the event, which is a 3-on-3 tournament. That’s just 7% of the NHL — and there is more than enough talent to fill that sliver simply. 

The league is never going to get every deserving player in, but they appear to be hamstringing themselves by making it necessary that each of the 32 teams has one representative. That leaves just 12 spots to be decided by the fans, who get to vote via X (formerly Twitter) until Thursday. 

“It’s tough because it’s good to have every team represented by somebody but it’s a tough contrast,” Islanders center Bo Horvat, who made the All-Star Game last season and was subsequently traded to New York from the Vancouver Canucks during that weekend break, told amNewYork. “There are some really good hockey players left out of the NHL All-Star Game. But it’s going to be like that every year no matter which way you slice it.

“I don’t mind this format. I think it’s nice having a representative from each team there. When different guys around the league are getting left off it, I can see why fans and players might be upset about it but it’s getting a longer vacation, I guess.”

Bo Horvat injury Islanders
Bo Horvat (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker, File)

Horvat, who had 16 goals and 23 assists (39 points) in 38 games, isn’t on the All-Star shortlist this year. The Islanders’ representative is Mathew Barzal, who entered Tuesday night’s game against the Canucks with 11 goals and 29 assists (40 points) in 39 games. 

It doesn’t seem like Horvat is trending toward making it, either. The NHL released an updated fan-vote total on Tuesday afternoon and the Islanders don’t have a representative within the top 15 skaters. Star defenseman Noah Dobson, who ranks fifth amongst blueliners in points (38) this season, is another potentially glaring omission from All-Star consideration.

“Mat [Barzal] definitely deserves to go. [Dobson] hopefully gets voted in and he deserves to be there, too,” Horvat continued. “So that’s where it’s like, yeah, it’s great to have everybody represented and have a person on their team there, but guys like Noah and guys around the league that could get left off the roster definitely deserve to be there.”

Barzal, though, is assuming a firmer stance on the All-Star Game’s current format in hopes that the event will simply recognize the top performers of that season regardless of franchise.

“I don’t think [it is conducive to showcasing the right players], personally,” he told amNewYork. “There are some teams who have multiple guys that can go, like us, and then there are some other teams. They’re trying to get everybody exposed, I guess.

“I don’t really know why this league has to be like that. Just put your best players out there and it forces teams who wouldn’t have a guy [in the All-Star Game] to maybe produce [an All-Star].”

Noah Dobson Islanders
New York Islanders’ Noah Dobson (8) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

For more on the Islanders and the NHL All-Star Game, visit AMNY.com