Chris Nilan Was Almost an All-Star

Custom card by Sal Barry

Former enforcer Chris Nilan almost played in the 1991 All-Star Game. His controversial selection changed how All-Star rosters are picked.

Back in the day, the coaches of each All-Star team would select the reserve players. Fans still voted for the starters, but it was up to the coach to choose the rest of the team.

Enter Boston Bruins head coach “Mad” Mike Milbury, who coached the Wales Conference team. Milbury picked Bruins enforcer Chris Nilan over more, ahem, traditional choices like Guy Lafleur or Kirk Muller.  

He *IS* smiling. Can’t you tell?

Milbury loves tough guys and physical play. Of course that’s meant in the most manly, bludgeon-each-other-over-the-head way possible. Nilan, who had 277 penalty minutes in 41 games with the Bruins in ’90-91, fit that to a T. He had the numbers all right…just not the numbers one would normally consider for inclusion in the mid-season classic.

In the end, Nilan did not play due to a broken ankle, and the NHL changed how reserve players were selected. Now a panel decides what non-starters are in the game, instead of leaving it up to the coaches.

What I never understood, though, is why Chris Nilan did not get an All-Star card.

The 1991-92 Pro Set Hockey set featured cards of players from the 1991 All-Star Game. All of the players.

Except for Nilan.

Yes, Nilan was injured. But so were these players…

Brett Hull also sat out due to injury. His inclusion on an All-Star card is understandable, as he was voted to the starting lineup.

Brian Skrudland was another controversial selection by Milbury. Skrudland was a defensive forward — and a fine one too. He also sat out because he was injured, but still “suited up” for this trading card photo.

The player who replaced Nilan in the All-Star Game was Bruins’ teammate Dave Christian.

But nowhere on Christian’s card is it noted that he was a replacement for Nilan.

Click to see much larger.

Did the NHL tell Pro Set to exclude Nilan from the set? Perhaps. Nilan was not in the game, and most likely not at the pre-game photo shoot either. Thus no photo. But removing any mention of him seems just like the strange, yet spiteful, kind of thing the NHL would do.

It looks right…but feels wrong.
It is as if the NHL wanted everyone forget that Nilan was going to play in an All-Star Game. And if it wasn’t for Wikipedia and my All-Star Game program, they might have gotten their wish.

Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

2 thoughts on “Chris Nilan Was Almost an All-Star”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *