At various points throughout the season, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz has served as a pitchman for forward Nicklas Backstrom, hawking the credentials of arguably the NHL's most underappreciated superstar.
Trotz was dumbfounded to discover recently that Backstrom had never been selected to an All-Star Game, calling it a "crime." The NHL unveiled the complete roster for the event, to take place on Jan. 25 in Columbus, Saturday evening; and Backstrom was once again excluded, with forward Alex Ovechkin chosen as Washington's lone representative.
"It absolutely blows my mind away," Trotz said after the Capitals' 3-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. "He's been our best player, I think, from start to finish. If you had to say who's been our top guy all, he's been the guy. I'm absolutely astounded that no one ever talks about him as a [Selke Trophy] guy, no one ever talks about him as an All-Star. I can't understand it.
"And he’s probably okay with it. If you know him, he’s probably okay with it.”
As Trotz expected, Backstrom, who openly prefers the solace found outside of the spotlight, expressed no disappointment.
"I don’t really think about it too much, to be honest with you," Backstrom said. "It is what it is. Is there an honor to represent your team? Yes. But I also know there’s a lot of good hockey players in this league and it’s usually one player per [team], so that’s understandable."
Exclusionary events such as the All-Star Game incite debates about who should or should not be included. A strong case can be made in support of Backstrom.
He is Washington's leading scorer with 41 points, which ranks 13th in the NHL. Of the 13 players currently averaging at least a point per game with 40 or more points, Backstrom is the only one who did not receive an All-Star invitation.
"I think Backstrom is as deserving as anybody in the league," forward Eric Fehr said. "He does absolutely everything for our team. I don't understand what else they would want him to do to be an All Star. He's a top 15 guy in points and he's a shutdown centerman. He's big for our team, and I think it's crazy that he's not on the team."
Said goaltender Braden Holtby: "That’s kind of sad, actually. He’s one of the best players in the world, so that's unfortunate.”
Backstrom, unlike his more outwardly charismatic linemate Ovechkin, does not command immense attention, which Fehr offered as a potential factor in the NHL's decision.
With the second half of the season beginning Monday against the Colorado Avalanche and days off precious and infrequent, Backstrom will gladly use the All-Star break to recharge before the Capitals, a league-best 12-1-4 since Dec. 4, entrench themselves in the Stanley Cup Playoff race.
"Get a couple days to heal," Backstrom said. "Maybe some sun."
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