The NHL all-star game is this weekend, and the rosters are… well, they’re fine. Maybe a few names that are mild surprises, sure, and there are probably too many Blackhawks, but there always are. Overall, the league did a reasonably good job of filling out the rosters this year.
That hasn’t always been the case.
To be clear, there’s really no such thing as a bad all-star. If you’re on the all-star team, you can’t be all that bad. Even if you really shouldn’t be there, you’re still a halfway-decent hockey player.
So no, the all-stars we’re going to talk about today aren’t bad. Let’s come up with a more polite term for them. They’re, uh, “differently qualified.”
That works. Today, let's go through some of the more questionable picks over the years and see if we can put together a full roster of the oddest all-star picks in NHL history.
To do that, let's figure out how non-all-star-type all-stars end up on the team in the first place. Usually, the picks fall into one of a handful of categories:
• The late replacement: Somebody else was supposed to go, they couldn't make it, and you were available.
• The one-per-team rule: Most years, the NHL insists on having each team represented by at least one player. When a team is really bad, that can lead to some interesting choices.
• The ballot-box stuffing: Somebody gets voted in by an enthusiastic fan base and/or a small Baltic country.
• The weird format: When it's the traditional conference-vs.-conference or the current division-vs.-division format, things tend to go OK. When the NHL tried to more creative, things got weird.
• The Crazy Mike Milbury: We'll get to it.
One important note: For this team, we're not counting commissioner picks. For a few years back in the ’90s, the commissioner could add a player or two to each roster after they were finalized. It was a way to recognize respected veterans whose careers were coming to a close, and it would feel wrong to pick on those guys. So that's why there's no Brad Marsh on our roster.
With that in mind, let's meet our team.
John Garrett, 1983
Qualifications: The popular veteran (and current beloved broadcaster) had enjoyed a long career, first in the WHA and then in the NHL. But he wasn't exactly anyone's idea of an all-star, posting a career GAA north of 4.00, which wasn't great even in the offensive 1980s. When the Canucks acquired him in February, 1983, it was to serve as a backup to starter Richard Brodeur.
Category: The late replacement, with some one-per-team rule mixed in
Brodeur was supposed to be the Canucks' representative. That would have been an iffy pick in its own right, but somebody from Vancouver had to go and Brodeur was having a decent season. But he got hurt a few days before the game, meaning the league needed another Vancouver goalie to take his place. Garrett was the only option, even though he'd been a Canuck for less than a week and had only six wins on the year.
As a side note, Garrett played well in the game. In fact, legend has it that he had been voted MVP midway through the third. But then Wayne Gretzky scored four times, the vote was changed, and Garrett lost out on a free car.
Peter Sidorkiewicz, 1993
Qualifications: After a few years of steady work in Hartford, Sidorkiewicz wound up in Ottawa for the Senators' first season. Playing behind one of the worst teams in NHL history, he got shelled every night. When the all-star break rolled around, he had a record of 4-32-3 and a goals-against average of 4.40.
Hey, somebody from Ottawa had to go. Most expected it be someone like Norm MacIver or Sylvain Turgeon. But instead it was Sidorkiewicz, a surprise pick that left bigger names like Ron Hextall and Tom Barrasso at home. Hey, think of it this way – who better to suit up in a game where nobody plays defence than a goalie for a terrible expansion team?
Craig Billington, 1993
Qualifications: He was midway through the only 20-win season of his career, and Martin Brodeur was still a year away from arriving as a full-time NHLer.
Category: No idea. This is the only pick on our roster where not one of the standard categories seem to apply.
It's fair to say that 1993 was a weird year for goalies, as Billington joins Sidorkiewicz on the Wales squad. Fun fact: A few months later, they'd be traded for each other.
Honourable mentions: Tim Cheveldae (1992), Manny Legace (2008), Rick DiPietro (2008)
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