November 10, 2010
Former Detroit Red Wings star Brendan Shanahan(notes) was an eight-time All-Star during his NHL career, and never understood why so many fans, media and players dogged the annual midseason exhibition game.
"It's not something that I ever walked away from and felt like we needed to apologize for this game, and I sometimes get defensive when we do apologize for it," said Shanahan, now a vice president for hockey and business development for the NHL.
Shanahan's affinity for the NHL All-Star Game was a catalyst for his role in a revolutionary rethinking of the event: The NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, which eliminates the East vs. West format for the game and features two team captains drafting teams like it's pro sports' most expensive pickup game.
(Revolutionary, but not unheard of; perhaps Brendan Shanahan is a women's soccer fan.)
The new format, which will be implemented for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 30, goes like this: Fans will vote for six "starters" in the All-Star game (three forwards, two defensemen, one goalie) from a ballot of 100 players from both conferences. The NHL will then name another 36 All-Stars for the game, giving each team 12 forwards, six defensemen and three goalies after the draft. (Shanahan wasn't sure how coaches will be assigned to the teams, but they won't be in the draft.)
That pool of 42 players will nominate six of their peers to lead the two All-Star teams: a team captain and two alternate captains for each side. On Friday, Jan. 28, a televised draft event will be held in Raleigh with team leadership selecting the rosters, with the order determined by a coin-toss.
The NHL will also name 12 rookies that will take part in the skills competitions scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 29. After the All-Stars are drafted, the captains will select six rookies each for their teams. (Shanahan said that the practice of having all 30 NHL teams represented in the All-Star game will continue, and that some of the rookies may fill that requirement.)
The winning team for All-Star weekend will be determined by victories in the skills competitions and in Sunday's All-Star game.
Now that most of the details have been released, there are some things to love about this new format ... and some things to loathe. Here are four of each ...
What To Love About New NHL All-Star Game Format
It Now Belongs To Fantasy Hockey Geeks and Video Gamers
Kudos to the NHL and the NHLPA for recognizing the reality of our surroundings: Fantasy sports and "Franchise Mode" on video games have made management of a roster as much a part of fandom as following the action on the ice. There is going to be a television special in which real live NHL players are participating in a fantasy draft. The only way it could be more geek-tastic is if the captains could make trades afterwards or "call up" a rookie to the team.
Death of the Rookie Game
The NHL YoungStars Game featured the top freshmen vs. sophomores on skills competition night, and it was a terrible, unenthusiastic snooze, like an opening band that gets booed off the stage. Plus, it was getting difficult to find goalies to fill out the rosters. Good riddance.
The Draft Drama
No matter who the captains are -- and don't just assume it'll be Sidney Crosby(notes) and Alex Ovechkin(notes), what with Chicago Blackhawks playoff MVP Jonathan Toews(notes) in the mix and beloved Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) nearing the end -- there's going to be drama in the draft.
Teammates passed over for rivals, and vice versa. Accusations of geographic or cultural bias. Deciding to use a pick on a defenseman when a superstar scorer is still on the board. Fans and media are going to dissect these picks like puck scholars.
The Players Are Fired Up
Shanahan, the NHL and the NHLPA have given ownership of this game back to the players. They'll pick the captains, pick the teams, pick who participates in the skills competition events against opponents. There may not be something on the line to play for, but Shanahan is optimistic the new format will energize the apathetic: "If the players are going to be entertained and enthused, then the fans are going to be entertained," he said.
What To Loathe About New NHL All-Star Game Format
The Schedule Is No Friend of Hype
Perhaps the logistics made this impossible, but wouldn't a week of debate, over-analysis and media saturation of "draft soap opera" storylines leading up to the All-Star game make the event must-see TV? Having the draft on the Friday of All-Star weekend dulls its impact as a promotional tool, even if having all the players on site will make for great theater.
Fan Voting Means Nothing
The fans will now vote for six starters rather than 12 as in the past. And those starters they select aren't even actually the starters: They'll be placed in the larger pool of All-Stars and aren't guaranteed to start the game. Outside of fixing the vote for a joke candidate, what's in it for the fan voters now?
Team Names? Jerseys? We'll Get Back To You
Wednesday's announcement has its hasty elements, and none were hastier than what the teams will be called or wear. As in, "We haven't figured that part out yet." Will they name the teams after the captains, like in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game? Will the arena be filled with "Team ______" T-shirts, like a "Twilight" movie premiere?
Will it be red vs. blue? Black vs. silver? Rebranding the All-Star game teams makes us nervous when it's coming from the league that turned the Norris Division into the "Central."
All we know is that it won't be East vs. West or North America vs. The World. And that, according to the NHLPA and the NHL, the teams won't be named after sponsors. This year, at least.
Finally, There's No Utter Embarrassment For Being Picked Last?
It's a tradition for any game that "chooses sides": Someone has to be picked last.
"It's something that was on our mind right away," said Shanahan. "Ironically, it's the players that we've spoken to that are the least sensitive about that. They almost revel in the potential squirming situations."
Alas, there may not be any nervous shuffling of feet and humiliated shrugs at the end of the All-Star draft.
"With the NHLPA we're working on some scenarios to soften that a little bit, not have one last guy standing. We are working on some things like multiple selections at the end, and speeding it up," said Shanahan.
Sorry, Mr. Irrelevant.