Defensemen are in very short supply at NHL All-Star Game

Defensemen are in very short supply at NHL All-Star Game

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There have been 296 players listed as defensemen who have played in the NHL so far this season.

This is the reality for those who play hockey’s most thankless position, where a player is rarely called upon to score and usually only gets noticed for messing up. The NHL All-Star Game format — where teams will play 3-on-3 in a tournament between teams representing divisions — doesn’t exactly create an overwhelming need for defensemen.

It’s about scoring, flair, finesse, opening up space and making the best goalkeepers in the world look like sieves at times.

There are serious guys in Sunrise, Florida this weekend, of course. But in the All-Star Game, especially under these rules, courage doesn’t apply.

And that means a group of All-Star caliber players who play on the blue line could be on a beach somewhere this weekend, but not the beach events for All-Stars in South Florida.

“That’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 defenders have success in 3v3. Obviously some of the most electric players overall are forwards.

The six defenseman picks this year — and it was five, until an injury replacement was named Thursday — are, according to former roster lists provided by the NHL, an all-time low among the stars. There were seven last year, 10 in 2019 and 2020, 11 in 2018 and 12 in 2016 and 2017.

“I didn’t know that at first,” said defenseman Cale Makar of the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. “But I think it’s difficult. Obviously, there could be 10-12 defenders here. That’s just the way voting is now. That’s how it goes. It’s very cool to be recognized.

There would be no defensemen in the Atlantic Division team on Saturday — because there would be no defensemen in the Atlantic Division roster.

It would have been an NHL first, an All-Star team without an All-Star defenseman. But the league set it Thursday, when Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin was announced as a replacement for injured Sabers teammate Tage Thompson. Dahlin has certainly earned the nod, with 55 points in 49 games, including 24 on the power play. No defender has more this season.

“It’s fun to watch it,” Makar said. “He’s so smart.”

New York Rangers’ Adam Fox is the lone defenseman in the Metropolitan Division, securing his trip to All-Star weekend through a fan vote. San Jose’s Erik Karlsson — by far the leading scorer among those in his position with 66 points so far this season — is the only defenseman in the Pacific Division.

The central division has at least one real representation. He has three defensemen on the 11-player roster – Winnipeg’s Jones, Makar and Josh Morrissey.

“It’s a huge honour, first and foremost, for me,” Morrissey said. “I look at the names that are here — defenders, forwards, goalkeepers — and it’s pretty cool to be in this company. There are a lot of players who could be here too, who aren’t here. The league is so talented and there are so many good players, so many good defenders too, who are not there. But it’s a great honor to be one of those guys and enjoy my first all-star game.

Morrissey is an avid stick collector. A nice perk of his All-Star trip: He’ll take another shot at getting a stick from Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby. It has failed in past attempts.

“I’ll try,” Morrisey said.

The numbers show how well defenders get the small end of the hockey stick when it comes to bragging rights to being an All-Star. Of all the players who have scored at least one game in the NHL this season, 9.2% of goaltenders are stars, 5.5% of forwards are stars — but only 2% of defensemen.

All-Star weekends were never really geared towards showcasing great defenders. They have awarded the All-Star MVP award 51 times and it has been won by a defenseman exactly twice – Ray Bourque in 1996 and Bobby Orr in 1972.

Wayne Gretzky has three MVP awards himself. Mario Lemieux too. And Makar was asked if he would have a shot at top scorer on Saturday – which would likely give him a shot at MVP honours.

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” Makar said. “I think I can almost guarantee it.”

AP NHL: and

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