FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — There have been 296 players listed as defensemen who have appeared in the NHL so far this season.
Only six are All-Stars.
Such is the reality for those who play hockey’s most thankless position, one where a player is rarely called upon to score and usually gets noticed only for screwing up. The format of the NHL All-Star Game — where teams will play 3-on-3 in a tournament between teams representing divisions — doesn’t really spark an overwhelming need for defensemen.
It’s about scoring, flair, finesse, getting to open space and making the world’s best goaltenders sometimes look like sieves.
There are some gritty guys in Sunrise, Florida, this weekend, sure. But at the All-Star Game, especially under these rules, grit need not apply.
And that means a bunch of All-Star-caliber players who play on the blue line might be on a beach somewhere this weekend, but not the beach events for All-Stars in South Florida.
“It's just part of it," said Chicago defenseman Seth Jones, now a five-time All-Star selection. “I think you've seen a lot of defensemen have success in the 3-on-3. Obviously, some of the more electric players overall are forwards."
The six defenseman picks this year — and it was five, until an injury replacement was named Thursday — is, based on the lists of past rosters provided by the NHL, an all-time All-Star low. There were seven last year, 10 in 2019 and 2020, 11 in 2018 and 12 in both 2016 and 2017.
“I didn't know that, first off," said defenseman Cale Makar of the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. “But I think it's tough. Obviously, there could be 10 to 12 defensemen here. It's just the way the voting is now. That's how it goes. It's very cool to be recognized."
There wasn't going to be any defenseman standing out on the Atlantic Division team on Saturday — because there wasn't going to be any defenseman on the Atlantic Division roster.
That would have been an NHL first, an All-Star team without an All-Star defenseman. But the league fixed that Thursday, when Buffalo's Rasmus Dahlin was announced as the replacement for injured Sabres teammate Tage Thompson. Dahlin certainly earned the nod, with 55 points in 49 games, 24 of those points on the power play. No defenseman has more this season.
“It's fun to watch him," Makar said. “He's so smart."
Adam Fox of the New York Rangers is the lone defenseman from the Metropolitan Division, getting his trip to All-Star weekend through a fan vote. San Jose’s Erik Karlsson — by far the leading scorer among those at his position with 66 points so far this season — is the only defenseman from the Pacific Division.
The Central Division at least has some real representation. It has three defensemen on the 11-player roster — Jones, Makar and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey.
“It's a huge honor, first and foremost, for me," Morrissey said. “I look at the names that are here — defensemen, forwards, goalies — and it's pretty cool to be in that company. There's a lot of players who could be here, too, that aren't here. The league's so talented and there's so many good players, so many good defensemen too, who aren't here. But it's a big honor to be one of those guys and enjoy my first All-Star game."
Morrissey is an avid stick collector. A neat perk of his All-Star trip: He's going to take another shot at getting a stick from Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby. He's been unsuccessful in past attempts.
“I'll try it," Morrisey said.
The numbers show how defensemen get the short end of the hockey stick when it comes to being able to tout being an All-Star. Out of all the players who have logged at least one game in the NHL this season, 9.2% of the goaltenders are All-Stars, 5.5% of the forwards are All-Stars — but only 2% of the defensemen.
All-Star weekends have never exactly been geared toward showcasing great defensemen. They’ve handed out an All-Star MVP award 51 times and it’s been won by a defenseman exactly twice – Ray Bourque in 1996 and Bobby Orr in 1972.
Wayne Gretzky has three MVP awards by himself. So does Mario Lemieux. And Makar was asked if he'll have a shot at being the leading scorer Saturday — which would likely give him a chance at MVP honors.
“Yeah, that won't be happening," Makar said. “I think I can almost guarantee that."
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press