With last week's Winter Classic and the regular season's official midway point coming at the conclusion of games Monday night, it's time for the focus to shift to the NHL's next big event, when the best in the game will take the ice together at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Place.
The pieces are already falling into place as the big event approaches, with the fans picking their first six All-Stars last week and Rangers coach John Tortorella sealing up a spot as one of the bench bosses for the game on Jan. 29. Soon we'll find out the rest of the All-Stars being selected and the captains before the fun of All-Star Weekend gets underway.
Because of the NHL All-Star Fantasy Player Draft the teams won't be divided between the Eastern and Western Conferences, but with no real way to split the pool up without knowing who is going to Ottawa, I'm going to stick with the old format and give you my East and West All-Stars so far in 2011-12.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Center - TBL
GOALS: 28 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 45
SOG: 139 | +/-: 6
-- This one is a no-brainer. The No. 1 overall pick in 2008 has blossomed into one of the League's elite scorers down in Tampa Bay, leading the League with 28 goals and dishing out 17 assists to go with it. And has anyone been hotter than Stamkos lately? He has 8 goals in his last six games.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
-- Kessel started off as the hottest player in the NHL and he hasn't cooled off since. He's trying to lead the Leafs back to the playoffs for the first time in a long time and if they finally break the drought, it will be in large part due to his 24 goals and 24 assists. His 48 points are tied for second in the NHL, and he's scored in each of his last four games.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
-- Philly got quite a scare when Giroux was diagnosed with a concussion earlier this season and it's a pretty safe bet there was some easy breathing when he wound up missing less than two weeks. Giroux has broken out in a big way this season with 18 goals and 30 assists. Playing with an all-time great like Jaromir Jagr
certainly hasn't hurt, but Giroux is looking like a star for years to come.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
-- You could talk about how Chara is a major physical presence on the Bruins' blue line, how he's the captain of the defending champions or how he's on pace to break his career high in points. But to really know why he might be the best D-man in the game, look no further than his plus-minus, which, at plus-27, is the second-best in the NHL.
Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
-- Sometimes you see a player voted in by the fans because he's a hometown favorite and not because he's earned it, but Karlsson has definitely earned it. He's played solid defense all season for Ottawa and the only person with more assists than him in the entire League is Henrik Sedin
. Giroux, Pavel Datsyuk
, Daniel Sedin
, Evgeni Malkin
-- those guys are all looking up at Karlsson.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Goalie - BOS
GAA: 1.99 | SVP: 0.938
-- There are 21 goalies in the League who have played in more games this season than Thomas, who has been splitting time with Tuukka Rask
to keep his 37-year-old body fresh for a playoff run. But despite only playing in 26 games, Thomas has 17 wins. His .938 save percentage, 1.99 goals-against average and 4 shutouts are all in the top five in the League.
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
-- Another year, another big season for each of the Sedins. Daniel isn't on pace to break his career high of 104 points from last season when he won the Art Ross
Trophy, but 47 points in 41 games isn't bad either, and it's certainly deserving of a place on my Western Conference All-Star team.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
-- The Sedins had to play apart for the first time in last season's All-Star Game and with the player draft it could happen again, but I won't be the person splitting them up. Henrik and Daniel might be in a personal fight to see who gets the Art Ross
Trophy each season and this year Henrik has the upper hand. His 49 points are the most in the League.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
-- Toews is one of the bright young stars of our game and each season, he just gets better. This year he's on pace for his best season yet, and he's among the top goal scorers in the League. He's a great scorer, but what really sets him apart from other forwards is how good he is both ways. He might be the best two-way center in the League.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 30
SOG: 114 | +/-: 12
-- After being a Norris Trophy finalist last year, Weber is probably going to be in the discussion again this summer. He's shown himself to be a leader in Music City, and his 21 assists are tied for third most among defensemen despite him missing a few games due to a concussion recently.
Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks
-- To win in the NHL, you need a solid man on the blue line and Bieksa has been as solid as they come this season. Bieksa has helped out offensively with 25 points, but he's provided a physical presence while shutting down the opposition's top players each night.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
-- Detroit's having a great year and you can look between the pipes for one of the big reasons why. No one in the NHL has more wins than Howard's 24, and the only team in the League with a better goal differential than the Wings won the Stanley Cup last spring.
Those are the guys I would put out there if I was looking for the top six players in each conference. I know it isn't the same as the first six players voted on by the fans last week, but that's fine. The All-Star Game is a time for the fans to have fun watching the players they love. Anything that makes the game better for the fans I'm all for.
Here's hoping we'll be in for another great show later this month.