SUN Hockey Pool

Classic all-star snubs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Scrape away all the glitzy hype and hoopla and you'll discover that the NHL all-star game has evolved -- or digressed, in the minds of many -- into an schmoozefest between the league and its sponsors.

Truth be told, it officially stopped being taken seriously by the fans when Pavel Bure, a participant in the game a few years ago, left the arena to catch a flight long before the final buzzer had sounded.

Having said that, it's still an honour for a player to be selected to participate in the NHL's showcase of a talent, which will take place in Dallas on Jan. 24.

When the final rosters were announced Saturday, the number of big names left off the list was eyepopping, as it tends to be every year.

Whether it be due to injury, inconvenience or selector indifference, big-ticket competitors such as New York Rangers superstar Jaromir Jagr won't be part of all the fun and frivolity in Big Dlater this month.

Just imagine the starting lineups of both conferences that could be pieced together from players who will not be at this year's all-star, ah, classic.

EAST

- Jaromir Jagr, F, New York Rangers (17 goals-42 assists-59 points)

Opted to take time off to rest an aching hip.

- Ilya Kovalchuk, F, Atlanta Thrashers (23-23-46)

How good can a skills competition be without this colourful figure involved?

- Olli Jokinen, F, Florida Panthers (21-28-49)

Stats would mushroom if there was more skill around him in Florida.

- Dan Boyle, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (10-27-37)

One of the most underrated blue liners in the game.

- Sergei Gonchar, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (7-25-32)

Can be a nightmare in his own end, but no one plays defence at the all-star game anyway.

- Ray Emery, G, Ottawa Senators (19-10-1, 2.55 GAA, .919 save percentage, three shutouts)

Has helped the Sens turn their season around.

HONOURABLE MENTION

- Forwards: Marc Savard, Bruins; Slava Kozlov, Thrashers; Martin Straka, Rangers, Michael Nylander, Rangers; Rod Brind'amour, Hurricanes; Maxim Afinogenov, Sabres; Mats Sundin, Leafs.

- Defence: Wade Redden, Senators; Joni Pitkanen, Flyers; Andrei Markov, Canadiens; Bryan McCabe, Maple Leafs; Jaroslav Spacek, Sabres.

- Goal: Johan Hedberg, Rangers; Rick DiPietro, Islanders.

WEST

- Jarome Iginla, F, Calgary Flames (23-30-53)

A knee injury has accomplished what the rest of the NHL couldn't -- stop Iginla.

- Paul Kariya, F, Nashville Predators (15-33-48)

Has revived his career in Music City.

- Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver Canucks (17-27-44)

Pick a Sedin, any Sedin ... (Brother Henrik (5-40-45) wasn't picked, either).

- Chris Pronger, D, Anaheim Ducks (7-33-40)

Would have been a shoo-in for the western squad if not for a broken left foot.

- John-Michael Liles, D, Colorado Avalanche (10-19-29)

Like Pronger, a fractured left foot leaves him on the sidelines.

- J-S Giguere, G, Anaheim Ducks (23-4-5, 2.17 GAA, .924 SP, 4 SO)

Was enjoying a career season before a lingering groin injury shut him down.

HONOURABLE MENTION

- Forwards: Henrik Sedin, Canucks; Daniel Cleary, Red Wings; Chris Kunitz, Ducks; Andy McDonald, Ducks; Robert Lang, Red Wings; Pavol Demitra, Wild.

- Defence: Mathieu Schneider, Red Wings; Marek Zidlicky, Predators; Ed Jovanovski, Coyotes.

- Goal: Dominik Hasek, Red Wings; Chris Mason, Predators; Manny Fernandez, Wild.

UNITED NATIONS ON BLADES

By becoming the first Japanese-born player to appear in an NHL game, Los Angeles Kings goalie Yutaka Fukufuji is the new poster child for the goaltending fraternity's ballooning international flavour.

Japan joins a growing list of countries represented between the pipes, one that also includes Switzerland (David Aebischer, Canadiens); France (Cristobal Huet, Canadiens); Germany (Olaf Kolzig, Capitals, who was born in South Africa but represents Germany); Sweden (Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist tops this group); Finland (Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff is the best of this bunch); Czech Republic (Red Wings' Dominik Hasek leads the way); Russia ('Hawks Nik Khabibulin, among others); U.S. (all-star Sabre Ryan Miller could be a future Vezina Trophy winner); and Canada (Devils' Marty Brodeur still is the best).

Countries like Slovakia, Denmark and Norway also have produced goalies who either have tested the NHL waters or are on the cusp of accomplishing the feat.

Fukufuji allowed one goal on six shots in his debut, a 6-5 Kings loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Normally a St. Louis-Phoenix tilt would be a snoozefest, but tonight's Blues-Coyotes matchup features two of the hottest teams in the past month ... Roberto Luongo returns to his hometown for the first time as a Canuck when Vancouver visits the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night ... Those poor Oilers fans won't get the chance to boo Pronger when the Ducks return to Edmonton on Thursday. Pronger remains sidelined with a broken bone in his foot ... The Maple Leafs' final game before the all-star break involves a date against the Pittsburgh Crosbys in the Steel City on Saturday.


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