Wyshynski: Predicting every NHL All-Star’s impact for the rest of the season


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The NHL All-Star Game is an oasis. It’s a moment for players to hang with peers, friends and family. To sink a golf putt with a hockey stick or topple into a dunk tank, it’s a time to let their personalities shine through, or at least as much personality as their decades of hockey culture programming will allow them to show without the shock collar going off. There’s a reason they call it an All-Star break. It’s a break from all that stress and strain of watching the scoreboard.

But breaks are breaks because eventually one must get back to the grind. The rest of the NHL season provides challenges, obstacles, missions and emotional journeys for our 44 representatives.

Here are the 2023 NHL All-Star tiers, taking into account how their season has been, where it might be headed and the roles they’ll play in shaping that future. Enjoy!

Players who will define the rest of the season

Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo Sabres
Bo Horvat, C, New York Islanders
Jack Hughes, C, New Jersey Devils
Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild
Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
David Pastrnak, RW, Boston Bruins
Tage Thompson, RW, Buffalo Sabres

Some of the players here will determine which teams make or miss the postseason.

Ovechkin will command our attention for the Wayne Gretzky chase, as he sits 82 goals away from tying The Great One’s NHL goals record. But he’s also integral to the Capitals’ attempt at a ninth straight playoff season. He has 19 more goals than anyone else on the team.

The Wild’s status as a playoff team could be summarized as “steady but teetering.” Kaprizov has eight more goals and 11 more points than anyone else on the Wild. They’ll need Kirill The Thrill in MVP mode to make the cut.

Horvat was originally listed in another tier, as his much-anticipated trade from the Vancouver Canucks happened a little earlier than much of us anticipated. He will be tasked with turning around the Islanders’ 25th-ranked offense, 31st-ranked power play and 15th-ranked faceoff winning percentage, while also justifying their trade for him by signing a long-term contract ahead of free agency. So no pressure, Bo.

Speaking of contracts, Pastrnak needs a new one. Everything I’ve heard is that he and the Bruins are getting closer. The money for one of the NHL’s top two right wings is going to be fascinating: It’s generally assumed that the floor is Artemi Panarin‘s $11,642,857 annual cap hit. The duration is going to be even more fascinating: How does he view the Bruins’ future through his commitment of years, knowing that the post-Patrice Bergeron era is nigh?

Oh, and in the background of all of this, Pastrnak is the leading scorer on a team attempting to shatter NHL regular-season records for points and wins.

Dahlin has replaced Thompson as the Sabres’ representative, and it’s well deserved. There’s a case to be made that he’s been the NHL’s best defenseman this season with, shall we say, a more well-rounded view of a defenseman’s responsibilities than Erik Karlsson, the presumed leader for the Norris Trophy. May the All-Star spotlight illuminate Dahlin’s accomplishments.

Bummer about not having Thompson here, as he is injured. Simply put, Thompson has a chance to author the biggest playoff story of the season, as the Sabres seek their first berth since 2011. When Tage goes, they go: He has 26 goals in their 26 victories. He’s the only player with the numbers and the narrative that could pry the Hart Trophy out of Connor McDavid‘s hands this season if the Sabres sneak into a wild-card slot.

There might be another player that could usurp McDavid if the Oilers miss the playoffs: Hughes, who has 14 more points and 12 more goals than anyone on the Devils. He’s their MVP and their pacesetter. They’re nowhere without him.

Pivotal to the playoff push

Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton Oilers
Kevin Fiala, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
Nikita Kucherov, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Vasilevskiy, G, Tampa Bay Lightning

These are players on teams that have fairly solid-to-good playoff chances.

For all the talk about what Rick Bowness has done in Winnipeg, they’re a playoff team because Hellebuyck is back to being a .923 save percentage goalie who’s pitching shutouts, full stop.

Fiala has quietly been excellent for the Kings after his high-profile trade last summer, leading L.A. with 53 points in 53 games — 10 more than any other teammate. Draisaitl is the highest scorer in the NHL not named Connor McDavid.

Kucherov and Vasilevskiy have powered the Lightning this season. But given the playoff format, their goal for the rest of the season is basically to stay healthy and know their Toronto Maple Leafs scouting reports from back to front.

Svechnikov is playing at his same goals pace as last season, but is a little off his mark on helpers. But much like the rest of the Hurricanes, it’s all about the playoff performance, and please recall that Svech had five points in 14 games in last year’s postseason.

Trapped inside the bubble

Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers
Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins
Nazem Kadri, C, Calgary Flames
Brock Nelson, C, New York Islanders
Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators
Brady Tkachuk, LW, Ottawa Senators
Matthew Tkachuk, LW, Florida Panthers

Players on teams that are on, around, or under the playoff bubble.

I’m making the editorial choice that the Flames are on more wobbly footing than the Kings and Oilers in the Pacific Division, despite Calgary having a higher percentage chance of qualifying (83.7%) than L.A. (65.2%), according to Money Puck, because the Kings have played more games. Kadri has done his part (19 goals) to prove me wrong, but he needs more help.

Speaking of doing his part but needing more help: Tkachuk has 66 points in 49 games, down slightly from his points per 60 minutes pace with the Flames last season. He’s 19 points clear of Barkov in the Panthers’ scoring race, and therein lies the problem: Until recently, Barkov has been good but not star-quality good. But oh baby, Barky’s on one now: 11 straight games with at least a point and 17 points overall during that run.

Meanwhile, Tkachuk is trying to cross the point-per-game mark for the first time in his career while keeping the Senators’ wild-card hopes alive. At the very least, Money Puck gives them better odds (14.6%) than Nelson’s Islanders (11%), who again just traded for Bo Horvat because Lou Lamoriello is convinced this is a playoff team.

There are only two names that can get the Predators to the playoffs and they are Juuse and Saros. He did as he does in January, going 7-3-0 with a .929 save percentage after going 8-22 with a .934 save percentage in January 2022. They need more of that down the stretch to compensate for a Nashville offense that’s been as messy as the floor at Tootsies after last call.

The Connor McDavid tier

Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

When you’re on pace for 150 points in a season, you get your own tier. That’s the rule. If McDavid hits that mark, it’ll be the highest point total for an NHL player since Mario Lemieux hit 161 in 1995-96 (incredibly, in just 70 games). Every game, another highlight. Every week, another collection of points.

The Oilers were my preseason Cup pick. I’m sticking with it, if only because the alternative is so undesirable: an unfettered celebration of one of the greatest statistical seasons in NHL history plummets into another lament about McDavid being wasted on middling Edmonton teams.

Preparing their acceptance speeches

Mitch Marner, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs
Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets
Jason Robertson, LW, Dallas Stars
Stuart Skinner, G, Edmonton Oilers
Ilya Sorokin, G, New York Islanders
Logan Thompson, G, Vegas Golden Knights
Linus Ullmark, G, Boston Bruins

The next NHL Awards Watch won’t be out until next week, but last month’s edition featured a number of these candidates.

The MVP talk around Robertson cooled off in December and January after he — gasp! — had only 30 points in 28 games. But he’s still the engine for one of the top lines in the NHL and 18 points clear of the next highest scorer on the team. More and more, you’re hearing the Stars mentioned as a legit Cup contender from those inside the NHL. Robertson is a big reason why.

Morrissey’s Norris Trophy case is getting stronger. The Jets blueliner is third in the NHL among defensemen with 53 points in 52 games. His challenge will be breaking through the chatter about Erik Karlsson, Rasmus Dahlin and the ever-praised Cale Makar. As one voter told us last month: “Do they do ad campaigns in Winnipeg?”

Thompson (.913 save percentage) and Skinner (.914) have both been in the Calder Trophy mix, although they suddenly have Buffalo’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen on their corner after the Sabre won January rookie of the month honors. Thompson also has the extra “rookie who saved the season” narrative after the capped-out Knights turned to him following Robin Lehner’s season-ending surgery.

Speaking of goalies, Ullmark is 25-4-1 this season for the Bruins. When your goalie’s stat line looks like most teams’ record when entering the third period with a lead … yeah, that’s a Vezina Trophy-caliber season. The .936 save percentage only underscores that. But Sorokin (.923) shouldn’t be counted out considering the relative strength of the teams in front of them. He was sixth for the Vezina last season.

The Rangers and/or Avalanche tier

Adam Fox, D, New York Rangers
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, D, Colorado Avalanche
Artemi Panarin, RW, New York Rangers
Mikko Rantanen, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers

If any enterprising grad student wants to investigate the impact of long playoff runs on the following season’s All-Star voting, I’d read that paper.

Shesterkin, Panarin and Fox are all making their first All-Star Game appearances, with the latter two added during the fan vote. I was stunned to find out this was the Breadman’s first All-Star appearance, but then I remembered he made the 2020 edition but missed it due to injury. The Rangers are chugging along with a .633 points percentage, closer to the bubble in the Eastern Conference than they are to second place in the Metropolitan Division. It feels like a team waiting for an adrenaline shot from GM Chris Drury at the trade deadline.

MacKinnon has been superb since returning from injury on New Year’s Eve: 20 points in 14 games, going scoreless in only three of them. The Avs won seven of eight games before the break. Makar has points in nine straight. Colorado is starting to go from simmer to rolling boil after a janky, injurious first half. Rantanen (61 points in 48 games) has been their constant and is on track for a third straight season of better than 1.23 points per game.

Trade deadline All-Stars

Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks
Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues

Last month, an NHL general manager told me that there were too many teams in the “muddy middle” to get the trade gears turning. Since then, the Canucks slid out of that slop, firing their coach and trading their captain. The next team to have that realization about their playoff fate are the Blues.

The Blues have three major trade possibilities in pending unrestricted free agents Ryan O’Reilly (if healthy), Ivan Barbashev and Tarasenko. The 31-year-old winger isn’t anywhere near his production levels from last season and has been invisible since returning from injury. But he’s got value as a rental.

It’s much, much more likely that the Sharks move Timo Meier at the deadline than Karlsson, who has a full no-movement clause while the winger has no trade protection. GM Mike Grier has said teams have “kicked the tires” on Karlsson, saying, “I’m not surprised being that this is a right-shot, dynamic defenseman, how often do those guys get on the market?” Guess we’ll find out if the rubber hits the road at the deadline.

We’re including Larkin here because of his protracted contracts talks with the Red Wings, which included his camp rejecting a recent offer from GM Steve Yzerman. Odds are still good that the two sides are going to figure out a way to keep the 26-year-old center with the Winged Wheel. But he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and Yzerman is as cold and calculating an executive as any we have in the NHL. Larkin does have a full no-trade clause, so even if things go sideways, he could remain in Detroit until the summer.

The ‘Sir, you are not a Kraken’ tier

Chandler Stephenson, C, Vegas Golden Knights

Seriously, they couldn’t find anyone in Seattle who wanted to replace injured Matty Beniers in the NHL All-Star Game? Andre? Jordan? Yanni?! We’re just going to assume Vince Dunn not being named to the All-Star Game roster is a conspiracy by GM Ron Francis to depress his restricted free agent value. For the love of Poseidon, give the people Brandon Tanev at the All-Star Game!

(This is not meant to besmirch the good name of Stephenson, the leading scorer for the Vegas by virtue of being one of only four Knights not to miss any games this season. He’s a great story and deserves this spotlight.)

Might play with Connor Bedard tier

Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Kevin Hayes, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Seth Jones, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Clayton Keller, C, Arizona Coyotes
Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver Canucks
Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal Canadiens
Troy Terry, RW, Anaheim Ducks

South Florida is absolutely lovely this time of year. Bring the loved ones, hang with some friends, enjoy the fanfare, fun and corporate sponsor glad-handing of the NHL All-Star experience.

Hey, if your team is lucky enough to win the draft lottery, even better news: Connor Bedard will be your team’s All-Star representative next season, so you can take a proper vacation during the break. You deserve it!

Jersey Foul of the week

From Carolina. The northern one:

This was such a lovely story from Cindi leading up to this unfortunate production error on her Brent Burns sweater. Honestly, so lovely that maybe you keep the foul as some kind of “it’s the thought that counts” parable. Or as a reminder that even with the best intentions, sometimes you’re just going to get BUNRS’D.

Video of the week

Brad Marchand, who once was named the best AND worst trash-talker in the NHL by his peers, was asked about chirps during games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. For some reason, he landed on Mitch Marner. “Mitch is out there talking about video games and his dog and those terrible new skates that he’s got out. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot of guys who like to get into it,” said the Little Ball of Hate. He also had his fun with the Toronto media, too.

Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Lou Lamoriello

Islanders fans had taken up chants of “Fire Lou!” at home games as their team struggled in the standings. Little did they know the 80-year-old president of hockey operations had the Bo Horvat trade cooking to save their season! Even if Horvat isn’t the savior, give Lou credit: He thought big, he jumped the trade deadline queue to acquire a coveted player and he’s finally giving Mathew Barzal the help he hasn’t had since John Tavares left the Island. If Lou truly believes this roster can win, he had to make this deal. The question remains whether that belief is misguided.

Loser: Canucks management

Horvat tugged on the heartstrings a bit during his news conference. “In the summertime and even at the beginning of the year, honestly, I thought I was going to be a Canuck. And I thought I was going to be a Canuck for life,” he said. That wasn’t going to happen because the Canucks failed to move money off their cap last summer. They handed out new contracts to Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller instead of getting Horvat to sign an extension. Then, he started scoring at a career-best goals pace and was priced out of the financial framework the team itself created. And now he’s an ex-Canuck, much to his chagrin.

Winner: Fan agency

The Hershey Bears set a new world record at their Teddy Bear Toss with 67,309 bears thrown onto the ice. What made this one unique beyond the record? Usually, the toss begins when the home team scores their first goal of the game. Well, Hershey was shut out by the Bridgeport Islanders. So the fans just started throwing the plush bears anyway with 5.4 seconds left in the third period, which was never completed.

Loser: Good work being done

There was another controversial Pride Night jersey decision recently, this time by the Rangers. I thought Penguins president Brian Burke had a good take about it in The Athletic this week. “As disappointed as I am, it’s important that people realize these are setbacks of a minor nature, in my view, in terms of where we are, versus where we were 12 years ago,” he said. While it’s important not to lose sight of that — both the Flyers and the Rangers honored the LGBTQ+ community on their respective Pride Nights in other ways — it’s also important to note that poor communication and hasty decisions can overshadow and undermine that work.

Winner: Bedard bump

When Connor Bedard’s junior team played at the Calgary Saddledome on Oct. 2, 2022, the game drew 3,279. Then came his World Juniors mastery and the hype surrounding his No. 1 overall pick projections for this summer’s draft. Over 16,700 fans packed the Saddledome on Wednesday to watch him lead the Regina Pats against the Calgary Hitmen. The Bedard show is playing to massive audiences already.

Loser: Stanley Cup bump

According to Mile High Hockey, the Avalanche are raising season-ticket prices 42% next season and raising 2023 Stanley Cup Playoff ticket prices by 271% (!). What hath the Nathan MacKinnon contract extension wrought!?

Puck headlines

Watch The Drop

Here is last week’s edition on the ethics of NHL tanking. Meanwhile, join myself and Arda Ocal on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Twitter and ESPN+ as we get you ready for the NHL All-Star Game live from Sunrise, Florida. Fun! Special guests! Costumes and more!

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