The NHL All-Star Weekend will kick off in Raleigh, North Carolina, but this year the construction of the teams will be much different than in years past. Rather than placing the best players from each conference on a team, two captains, Detroit Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom and Carolina Hurricanes’ Eric Staal, will pick the teams in the first ever NHL All-Star Players Fantasy Draft this Friday, January 28th. The draft will be airing on Versus at 8 p.m. The Super Skills Competition will take place Saturday night at 7 p.m. and the All-Star Game will be played Sunday at 4 p.m.
In the new format, fans initially voted for a starting line of three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie. The league’s Hockey Operations Department in Toronto chose 36 more All-Stars as well as 12 rookies. The 12 rookies will not play in a Rookie Game this year, but they will participate in the Super Skills Competition on Saturday. There have also been many replacements added, as is the case each year, for injured players such as Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, and Evgeni Malkin.
The players elected Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal as the captains. A coin toss will determine who will get to pick first in the draft. After that, the players will begin to make the rest of their roster with any players they want, regardless of conference. The only requirement is that each team have 13 forwards, six defensemen, and three goalies. However, the players can select their team in any order.
In my opinion, while it does not necessarily add any more meaning to the game, the new format is a fresh idea that brings excitement to the fans and helps distinguish the NHL All-Star weekend from All-Star weekends in other sports. Anyone who has played sports growing up remembers the days of playing on the schoolyard and picking teams. Often, the two best kids would be the captains and everyone else would anxiously wait to be selected. Then, the two teams would have at it and the best team that day would win. The draft brings back these memories for the fans and the players. Younger fans, who the NHL is trying to bring into the sport, will particularly enjoy seeing their favorite players picking teams as they would at recess.
For anyone who enjoys fantasy sports, this is the chance to have another fantasy draft for the night. While I do not think everyone will do this, I still think some fans will have the list of players in front of them and decide who they would pick if they were Lidstrom or Staal. They can follow along and see if they would have done the same thing.
Furthermore, I think it is an opportunity for fans to learn about players they have not heard much about. In America, the coverage of hockey is slim compared to the other major sports and ESPN focuses much of its attention on Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Though it is unfortunate to see a guy like Crosby out of the All-Star game (since he definitely deserves to be there), this presents an opportunity for the focus to turn to other stars such as Corey Perry from the Anaheim Ducks, Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators, and Brad Richards from the Dallas Stars, just to name a few.
As for the players, it should be fun. They can pick some of their buddies from around the league or steal a teammate of the other captain. For example, their is debate over whether Lidstrom will try to take Carolina Hurricane Cam Ward in order to prevent Staal and Ward from being on the same team on home ice (the RBC Center in Raleigh is home of the Carolina Hurricanes). The strategies will be interesting as well. Should the first pick be a goalie? Or should it be an offensive player? Finally, once the first tow picks are complete, it will be interesting to see if the players consult with each other about the future picks.
The new format brings many of the players back to their days of playing hockey on the pond. It reminds them of all those days spent working on their game in order to play at the professional level. As kids on the pond, or any ice rink for that matter, they would wait to be picked by one of the captains that day. Even after all these years, the same thought will be going through their heads this Friday night, “I hope I am not picked last.”