DETROIT -- Nicklas Lidstrom thinks the NHL should add another element to the Fantasy Draft and All-Star Game — rivalry.
With the festivities in Ottawa this year, one captain should be the Senators' Daniel Alfredsson. That's a slam dunk. He's the face of the franchise.
But the other captain should be the Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf. He's the face of the enemy.
"I think you can have a lot of fun with it -- and I think especially if you get the Battle of Ontario going a little bit -- even though it's an All-Star Game," Lidstrom said. "I think the guys are going into it having that attitude."
Lidstrom should know. The Detroit Red Wings' superstar captained one of the teams in Carolina last year, the first time the NHL tried this format -- hoping to add some drama and competitive spirit to an event that had gone stale. The all-stars help pick the captains, the captains pick the teams on a TV show and they go at it in the game, with bragging rights on the line.
It worked well last year. Team Lidstrom won, 11-10, beating a team captained by the Hurricanes' Eric Staal.
The thing is, nobody hated Lidstrom. Nobody has ever hated Lidstrom -- an elegant player and a nice guy. The fans probably wouldn't have hated him even if he had captained a team with this format in Colorado the late 1990s.
But Phaneuf vs. Alfredsson?
Lidstrom enjoyed building up the suspense even when he was simply asked which captains he would pick this year. He said Alfredsson was the obvious choice for one team. He said there were some good candidates for the other team -- Jarome Iginla, Zdeno Chara. But then he paused and smiled.
"One I kind of like, that's kind of intriguing …"
Another pause. Another smile.
"Put Phaneuf in there," he said finally. "If you've got Phaneuf and Alfredsson, Toronto against Ottawa, the Battle of Ontario, that would kind of spice it up."
Being a captain is a great honor. It meant a lot to Lidstrom last year, and it would mean a lot to Alfredsson this year. But it would mean a lot to Phaneuf, too, especially if his all-star peers push for him after 161 anonymous players voted him the most overrated player in the NHL in a Sports Illustrated poll.
And remember, this is not something sacred; the Stanley Cup isn't on the line. It's a friendly affair that needs a little jolt. The NHL will air the Fantasy Draft on national television in Canada, and what would be better than having the captains of rival Canadian teams picking rival All-Star teams?
Alfredsson can pick the other Ottawa Senators -- Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson.
Phaneuf can pick the other Toronto Maple Leafs -- Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul. How great would it be if he took Kessel with his first choice, a year after Kessel went last? Kessel deserves it, ranking among the league's scoring leaders this season.
Then Phaneuf could pick the former Senators -- Chara, Brian Elliott. Especially Brian Elliott. The Senators traded him away last season. He ended up settling for a $600,000 salary on a two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues. Now he comes back to Ottawa as one of the league's top goaltenders.
You know Phaneuf would play the villain well on TV and on the ice -- with all his scowling and smiling and chirping -- and you know he would be a little more serious than usual if he were leading Team Phaneuf.
The Battle of Ontario resumes Tuesday night in Toronto, and it's a big deal again. The surprising Senators and the improving Leafs are fighting for playoff spots in the East. How about making the announcement then?
Phaneuf vs. Alfredsson.
"You're not going to see the very hard All-Star Game where guys are blocking shots or hitting guys, but I think you can build it up a little bit," said Lidstrom, who is sitting this one out to rest his 41-year-old body.
"I think the draft can do that for you. I think that's why if you have the Battle of Ontario, I think that would be fun."