When the puck drops for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game at Tampa's AMALIE Arena on Sunday, January 28, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have the opportunity to do something no other team in the league can boast:
Fielding a starting lineup comprised entirely of Lightning players.
Tampa Bay was the only NHL team to get four players - the most they were allowed with only 11 players per division selected and the league requiring each team at least one representative at the mid-season showcase - in the All-Star Game following Wednesday's announcement that Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman would join Atlantic Division captain Steven Stamkos as well as Atlantic head coach Jon Cooper on the roster.
Certainly, there will be a temptation for Cooper to start all four of his players at some point during the competition, particularly with the game being held in their home rink in front of their home fans.
"It's up to (Cooper) obviously, but I sure hope he has that in mind," Hedman said from his locker room stall following the team's morning skate Thursday. "It would be pretty cool. To get all the Bolts out there at the same time would be pretty special for us. I think everyone in here is happy for our four guys that made it and obviously with the coach too, we're all very proud to represent the Lightning. We're going to have a really good time that weekend and put on a good show for our fans. We're just very, very excited. It doesn't really matter who we play with, but obviously it would be pretty special to play with your friends and teammates out there."
Video: Hedman shares excitement on being named an All-Star
The positions played by the four selected from the Lightning allows Cooper the ability to ice them together too. Stamkos and Kucherov form a natural 1-2 punch at the forward position, particularly since those two have played on a line together for virtually the entire season. Kucherov enters tonight's home matchup against Calgary - the last contest for the Lightning before going on a weeklong break from games - as the NHL's scoring leader and tied with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the League lead for goals. Stamkos paces the NHL for power-play goals, is second for power-play scoring and is tied for second for overall scoring.
Hedman is the leading scorer among Atlantic Division defensemen and leads all NHL skaters for plus/minus. He'd be the perfect defensive partner to pair up with Stamkos and Kucherov and form the highest-scoring triumvirate any division could send over the boards.
And with Vasilevskiy also earning an All-Star nod, the first of his career, the Lightning are the only team in the League with the ability to have all of their players on the ice at one time.
"I'll try to lobby with the coach if we can maybe start the game as the four guys, so that'll be certainly a lot of fun for us and hopefully a lot of fun for the fans," said Stamkos, who will make his fifth All-Star Game appearance, second most all-time in Lightning history.
Video: Kucherov on All-Star Selection
Other players on the Lightning had a legitimate case to make the squad too but were left off because the numbers just wouldn't allow it. Brayden Point ranks third on the Bolts for goals and scoring and is one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. Tyler Johnson has been the hottest player in the League since December 1, scoring a NHL-best 12 goals from that date to now. And Mikhail Sergachev has proven he's a rookie in name only, currently ranking fourth among Atlantic Division blueliners for scoring.
Quite simply though, it was impossible for the Lightning to send more players to the All-Star Game because there were no more roster spots available once every Atlantic Division team had been represented on the roster.
"At first glance, there might be people sitting there saying, 'Well, Tampa's got a bunch of guys in the game because the city's hosting,'" Cooper said. "But it couldn't be farther from the truth, and I think when you look at that, and to be honest, I think guys have to prove themselves that much more to get in so it doesn't look like that. You look at the years obviously Stammer and Kuch have had, but you open up the stat pack and look where Hedman is, he's all over the place, you know top in points and everything else that really matters. And then what else can you say about Vasilevskiy. We're looking down at our lineup and saying, 'Actually, there might be some more guys that could be in there.' The unfortunate part to the whole thing is there probably are some guys in the league that have missed out as well. When you're limited to 11 players, there's so many guys that get left off the list. But what I can definitely say, when you look at not only the Atlantic but the rest of the league, everybody on there deserves to be there. It just goes to show the depth and how many good players are in this league."
The fact the Lightning have four All-Stars shows the depth and how good the Bolts have been so far this season too.