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The All-Star Fantasy Draft is Friday night and there's sure to be a lot of talk in the next few hours, as there already has been, about strategy and who should go where.
But there hasn't been much talk about what would make the Draft more entertaining for the TV audience. Let's face it, these teams are going to end up being pretty good no matter who gets chosen by Eric Staal(notes) and Nicklas Lidstrom(notes). So let's think of some other ways to generate maximum interest for fans bored by the "intrigue" of picking one perennial point-a-game player over another.
1. Civil War
I'm talking brother vs. brother. It's been discussed to death, but yeah, separating of the Sedins could be pretty fun to watch. The "Maybe they trade jerseys just to mess with everyone," jokes alone would be worth it, right gang? But imagine if Lidstrom uses his first overall pick to take Marc Staal(notes). There'd be some serious anger up on a certain sod farm in Thunder Bay, Ontario, that's for sure.
Eric has joked about the pressure he's under to make sure they're on the same team (the better to save on replica jerseys back home, perhaps). Makes you wonder if Eric will take his li'l brudder with his first pick just so Mrs. Staal gets off his back. Which brings me to something else...
2. Breaking up the Hurricanes
Staal has the unenviable task of spinning a bunch of plates at once. Everything was all well and good when he only had to worry about picking Marc and Cam Ward(notes) -- take Wardo No. 1, and Marc would probably still be unpicked by the seventh or eighth round at least -- but having Jeff Skinner(notes) added to the mix makes things far more interesting.
Skinner, it's been noted in recent weeks, is wildly popular with Hurricanes fans. His jersey is allegedly outselling both Staal and Ward's. Combined. If Lidstrom's smart, he takes this kid early and maybe gets the crowd to back that team instead. It would be a huge mistake to let Staal get all three 'Canes.
3. Someone Dropping Way Lower Than They Should
Imagine how much fun it will be if, let's say, Steven Stamkos(notes) slips into the fifth or sixth round. It will be as good as that time at the entry draft in June when Cam Fowler(notes) just kept getting passed over (below Dylan McIlrath(notes)!). The growing befuddlement from announcers, as Patrick Sharp(notes) and Shea Weber(notes) go ahead of him, maybe he slumps in his chair a little bit, grimaces some. Oh man, that would be great.
4. Alternate Captains Overstepping Their Bounds
Having alternate captains already selected was a little weird, I thought, but OK, if that's how the NHL wants it, that's fine. Let them play a role in the team selection, and hopefully someone gets a little overzealous.
I can totally picture Mike Green(notes) deciding that he really wants another player on his team and being a real jerk about it until Staal picks him up. Or maybe Patrick Kane(notes) really lobbies hard for Jonathan Toews(notes), Duncan Keith(notes) or even Dustin Byfuglien(notes) to end up on his team, despite Lidstrom's protests to the contrary. Maybe it ends in a shoving match. We can hope.
Having covered Kess a bit, I just know that he'd take being Mr. Irrelevant horribly, and the subsequent teasing he got from fellow All-Stars and his teammates once he got back to Toronto would really bother him.
I don't even care about him playing in the game with a chip on his shoulder. I just like thinking about Phil Kessel being a pouty baby. It's funny.
I think the most detestable part of this whole All-Star game thing has been the blatant and painful pandering to the host team.
Is there really a need to have not one, not two but three players from a ninth-place squad in an All-Star game?
Is it necessary to then have another one in the rookie skills competition?
OK sure, Eric Staal is sixth in the league in scoring, and Cam Ward is playing wonderfully behind a team that devotes almost no effort to defense, and they're legit All-Stars. I even think it's a good idea to have the local team's top representative serve as one of the captains.
But these other two guys? I dunno.
I like Jeff Skinner very much as a hockey player, but don't you think it's a little dubious just how far the league has gone out of its way to explain why he's in the game at all? An NHL release on the matter notes, "Skinner has one more goal and the same amount of points as All-Star center Jonathan Toews. He has more points than All-Star forwards David Backes (37), Patrick Kane (37), Patrik Elias (36) and Phil Kessel (34). He has more goals than nine of his fellow All-Star forwards, including the injured Malkin."
Well then guess who shouldn't be in the game at all?
It's those guys.
And I know what you're saying. "Didn't you just write a column about fans bitching that their players didn't make it is stupid?" Yes, I sure did. But the difference is that this is the league making executive decisions about what it would tell you that is About The Fans (ignoring that it's really a revenue-driving event used to schmooze advertisers and corporate partners, and no tickets are ever released to the general public).
So let's go with that premise. What the league is saying, in essence, is that fans care more about Jeff Skinner (currently 38th in league scoring, whom no casual fan has ever heard of, playing in a market no one cares about for a team that's never on national TV), more than they do Mike Richards(notes) or Joe Thornton(notes).
And what of Jamie McBain(notes), 16th in rookie scoring and fourth among rookie D? Did someone at NHL HQ get word that John Carlson(notes) (who has more points from the blue line than McBain, by the way) was run over by a truck? Did Brad Marchand(notes) get in a high school fight with the cousin of someone in hockey operations?
Jeff Skinner doesn't belong in an All-Star game yet, no matter how impressive his rookie season has been, and Jamie McBain doesn't belong in a skills competition. It's really that simple.
Matt Cooke doesn't get defended enough
Hey, remember what a dirty, reckless piece of garbage Matt Cooke plays like? Well, not everyone thinks so. Take, for example, The Hockey News.
In a positively baffling tweet, THN, I dunno, had Matt Cooke's back in the whole "He pretty much ruined Marc Savard's(notes) career" thing. To wit: "Make Cooke the big, bad boogeyman all you want -- scapegoating is fun! -- but over-the-line hits won't vanish when Cooke & Bertuzzi are gone."
Yes, Matt Cooke is a boogeyman. That makes a whole ton of sense. He's just some nefarious phantom player coaches tell their No. 1 centers about at night to make sure they play the game honest and hard and always, always, always keep their head up. He in no way has a clearly. demonstrable. history. of well-past-borderline. dangerous. play. and a disregard for the well-being of his opponents.
Oh, but when the rightful protestations came a-floodin' in, whoever was running the feed for the magazine at the time said, "Wow, lots of blind hatred for Matt Cooke. Wasn't endorsing his actions, folks; just said the game's culture allows him to be a dirty player."
That's definitely the same thing. And it's also stupid and simplistic. This is an NHL in which players have to fight after clobbering guys with 100 percent clean, legal hits that are even moderately big. Matt Cooke has had to answer for the Savard hit and a bevy of other cheapshots. He's perfectly effective in his role, which is playing on the edge of what is acceptable in the sport, and yeah, sometimes crossing it.
But the only thing that allows him to be a dirty player is that teams like the Penguins keep cutting him checks, and people like the bozos at The Hockey News that write his chicken[expletive] play off something that can't be policed.
Pearls of Biz-dom
BizNasty on auto shows: "Heading over to the Berrett Jackson. My buddy texted me saying its like a zoo over there and the main exhibit is the "cougar cage". #Jumanji
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- Matt Cooke