GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes won 50 games and set a franchise record with 107 points last season. With 2010-11 now into the second half, the Coyotes again hold a playoff spot in the Western Conference, just a point out of fourth place heading into the start of a four-game homestand against Toronto on Thursday night.
But those achievements didn't impress the selection committee for the All-Star Game. Not one Coyote was among the 42 players invited to this year's game in Raleigh, N.C. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who will take part in the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition the night before the game, was the only Phoenix representative on the list released earlier this week.
Some of the reasons are obvious. Until last week, no one on the all-for-one Coyotes had reached the 10-goal mark and there is no room on a team currently being run by the NHL for a superstar's salary. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a Vezina Trophy candidate last season, has been slowed by injury for the last month and his numbers are down.
But it was also obvious Thursday that the Coyotes felt defenseman Keith Yandle – who has 34 points in 44 games – was overlooked and deserved to join the League elite in Raleigh.
Yandle said he wasn't upset personally, but said the team being passed over was definitely noted in the dressing room. "It might be something we use for motivation that we're being picked on a little bit," he said. "Maybe we can use it. But look at the list -- everyone who was picked is worthy. I don't think anyone in our locker is sour over it."
But one locker to Yandle's right, captain Shane Doan took exception and pointed to his left.
"He's our best player, a special player and he should be there," Doan said of Yandle. "Night in, night out, he's the best player on the ice for both teams. He's an incredible and he's only going to get better … it's surprising and disappointing he didn't get the recognition he deserves."
Other teams have legitimate beefs as well. Doan also pointed out that Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia is tied for the second-best record in the NHL and has only one player – winger Claude Giroux – while the Flyers' top three scorers were also left home. The fact that the Coyotes win by committee and don't have many big-time scorers also works against them.
"We count some much on each guy, every line and every defense pair," Doan said. "If you're feeling sorry for yourself or kind of pouting one night, you can really hurt our team because that was the one night we really needed you to help us.
"It's our strength and our weakness. When everything is going well, it's what makes us good. When we're struggling, the fact we don't have those star players is what everyone can point to as what's missing.
Coach Dave Tippett usually downplays individual achievements, but was quick to speak up for his young defenseman. "Yandle should have got a good look there," he said. "He's a guy who's worthy. Those selections come down to hard decisions. But he can probably use the rest too."