November 29, 2010
When the NHL announced that its 2011 All-Star Game squads would be drafted by two captains rather than determined by conference affiliation, many fans voiced their anticipation (or dread) of a seemingly inevitable Team Sidney Crosby(notes) vs. Team Alex Ovechkin(notes) faceoff.
Then came the alternatives; like when Kevin Allen of USA Today theorized that legendary Detroit Red Wings defenseman (and captain) Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) could get the call, or perhaps Teemu Selanne(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks in a career achievement honor.
But the more we've thought about it, and asked around, the more it seems we've overlooked the obvious: Eric Staal(notes) of the Carolina Hurricanes, logically, will be one of the two captains for the 2011 All-Star Game on Jan. 30.
Which should go over well in Raleigh.
"We'll see what happens, but I think they want to make it real fan-oriented," Staal told us on Sunday, after the Hurricanes' 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
"I would be a wise choice, with our fans cheering for our side."
Staal has 27 points in 23 games for the Hurricanes, good for ninth in the NHL and putting him on the short list for what would be his fourth All-Star Game selection.
In a recent interview with NHL.com, he joked about his approach if selected as a captain:
"In an All-Star Game, it's all about defense so I'd probably get the shut-down defense first and go from there," said Staal, tongue in cheek. "Just kidding. ... There are so many great players with so much skill and so much talent, you can't really go wrong with any player. If I got that honor to pick, it's a lot of pressure, but at the same time, I'm sure the guys would have fun with it."
The honor should be his, for a few reasons:
1. Location, Location, Location.
The game is in Raleigh and Staal is both the captain of the local team and a legit NHL star. Staal said he expects there's a hometown advantage working in his favor for the captaincy.
The NHL has said that the pool of 42 players will nominate two captains and four alternates as the brain trust for the teams. If you've spent more than a millisecond observing the behavior of well-compensated NHL players (and the NHLPA, for that matter), you know they'll typically opt for the most benign path of least resistance in decision-making. Choosing the local hero as a team captain fits that conduct.
But if the NHL has some influence over the captaincy -- and let's be honest here and say that it does -- Staal is also a politically safe selection: Sentimental but not forced, and a way to escape what could be Sidney/Ovie overkill after the Winter Classic and several years of inescapable hype for their rivalry.
UniWatch passed along the concerns of a retailer about having All-Star Game jerseys in stock for that weekend in Raleigh. One of the best-selling sweaters on-site will be Staal (assuming his selection and good health.) An informed guess: The NHL will have Staal, his number and a captain's 'C' on one of the sweater designs, ready in stores well before the All-Star Game.
Finally, as Staal said himself: Team Staal gives the locals a chance to become emotionally invested in one of the squads. That's important when you consider how the new format stripped away conference identification; what general rooting interest there was in the game went with it.
Best guess: Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom as captains. Which, at the very least, shifts the Sidney vs. Ovie debate to the first pick in the draft. Unless it's Stamkos ...