Fanciful changes to the NHL's All-Star Game format have been a dependable part of hockey debates for years, drawing the ire and armchair analysis that's akin to a radio talk-show host asking callers "lemme hear what bugs you about the drivers around here."
Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a gripe. Rare is the fan who enjoys the totality of All-Star Weekend; common is the fan who leaves the debate by saying "who cares, it's stupid, just cancel the game."
So credit NHL VP Brendan Shanahan(notes), the league and the NHL Players' Association with trying to spruce up a stale piece of white bread. The biggest news out of this week's GM meetings was that the NHL All-Star Game format will be dramatically changed beginning with this season's game in Raleigh. A formal announcement of the details could arrive as early as Wednesday, but from various media reports here's what we're looking at:
• There will be two captains, one for each team. According to Postmedia, NHL players in the all-star pool will vote for the captains.
• The fans will vote for the starters for each team.
• The NHL will create a pool of "reserves" from which the captains will fill out their rosters regardless of conference affiliation.
Basically, the NHL has turned the All-Star game from a hockey fantasy into fantasy hockey, giving two guys (and an increasing number of teammates) the chance to draft against their peers. It's the ultimate pickup game, which is going to make for some great drama (would Alex Ovechkin(notes) take Nicklas Backstrom(notes) or Alex Semin, for example?) even as it has the potential for being a train wreck on the ice.
We'll reserve comment until the format is finalized and formally released. But until then, we have six questions about the new NHL All-Star Game ...
There's no guarantee that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals stars will be the team captains, but you don't need to be a meteorologist to feel where the wind's blowing for a format like this. The naming of the captains will be the first real PR test for this format; we'll be intrigued to see who gets the call.
2. Will the "NHL All-Star Game Selection Show" give the NHL yet another blockbuster TV property?
According to Darren Dreger, "Friday, Jan 28th the NHL's All Star captains and alternates will draft their teams for Sunday's showdown. Could be a fun process." Which means the teams will be picked on a Friday, the skills competition is on a Saturday and the game is on a Sunday. The NHL has added a third must-see night to its all-star weekend; is that too much? Should the TV special air earlier in the month? Our prediction: It gets better ratings than the NHL Draft and Awards.
3. Are goalies really going to take part in the skills competition as "players"?
Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos wrote that goaltenders are expected to be a part of the shot accuracy and fastest skater competitions this season. The former sounds fun; the latter sounds like a groin pull waiting to happen. And do we really want keepers taking the place of snipers out there?
4. Will you miss the Young Stars game, which has been dropped from the weekend?
Oh, wait, we can answer this one now: HELL NO.
5. Does Shanahan owe a greater debt to the KHL or Eric McErlain for this All-Star game idea?
The KHL's All-Star Game has featured a Team Yashin vs. Team Jagr format, putting a single player as the brand for the team. We imagine the same thing will happen with the captains. But Eric McErlain's November 2008 All-Star game idea for NHL FanHouse reads like an outline for what's happening now in the NHL:
First off, I'd keep the voting the same way it is now, with fans voting five skaters and a goalie from both the Eastern and Western Conference. But once you get those results, all other bets are off. Next, you match your two designated team captains with the coaches who have won the honor of coaching a team based on the best record in each conference.
What comes next is a live draft aired between periods of the NHL Winter Classic.
Working together with the designated coaches -- for sake of example, we'll say Claude Julien is matched with Ovechkin and Todd McLellan is paired with Crosby -- the team captains will draft their All-Star teammates, with the only proviso being that the first six selections must come from the player pool elected to start the game by the votes of the fans. Each team will select three players -- alternating one at a time -- during each between periods break.
Once you get past the televised draft, the two teams will continue to alternate picks one at a time until the traditional rosters are complete.
Does E-Mac get some royalties from the sale of 2011 All-Star gear?
6. Finally ... is this too radical?
There's a certain comfort from homogeny. East vs. West. North America vs. The World. This All-Star game is chaotic. Will we have enough time to learn the rosters? Does this format increase the level of competition for the game? Will it produce compelling hockey on the ice to go along with the fun side stories from the draft?
Will other sports fans look at us as a pioneer or a joke that's trying too hard?
Is this a change for the better?