Thursday, January 27, 2011

Previewing the NHL All-Star Game

Hockey fans already know that the NHL All-Star Game is scheduled to be next weekend. The game is always a fun event to watch, but this year will prove to have a bit more intrigue than previous years due to its new format.

For those who are unfamiliar with the changes, the game this year is no longer divided into the Eastern Conference All-Stars against the Western Conference All-Stars. Instead the teams will be picked by two captains, Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom, much like a fantasy draft or even a throwback to the middle school gym.

This new format leads to some interesting questions that I think will make the game much more fun for everyone watching. For example, will the captains favor current team allegiances, or, in the case of Staal and his brother Marc, kinship? Will each of the captains pick a Sedin twin to keep the potent scoring duo off of the opponent’s team? Most of these players have never been picked anything other than first – who will end up being the Mr. Irrelevant of the NHL All-Stars?

And, of course, the best part about any All-Star Game, is seeing the best of the best play against each other – there are no team or Conference allegiances here, only the desire to win. I think the fantasy draft manages to make the game interesting, without forcing the game to “matter” like the MLB has done with its All-Star Game.

So who would I choose for my first ten players? I would probably begin by picking forwards close to the league leaders in points, because of the high goal totals that generally come with an All-Star game. Stamkos has looked absolutely amazing, finally beginning to come into his own in Tampa. Sidney Crosby is, well, Sidney Crosby and the Sedin twins both manage to be in the top five in points and create a potent scoring tandem.

1) Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay
2) Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh

(editor's note: Sidney Crosby was ruled out of the All-Star game Monday)

3) Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver
4) Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver
By the fifth pick I would switch it up and pick a goaltender - Tim Thomas leads the league in almost all of the goaltending categories.
5) Tim Thomas, G, Boston
For the first defensive pair, I'd choose Dustin Byfuglien and Zdeno Chara. Byfuglien has been a dominant force on the blueline for Atlanta this season, and Chara, always a solid defenseman, would give the team a bonus in the Skills Competition, being the current hardest shot record holder.
6) Dustin Byfuglien, D, Atlanta
7) Zdeno Chara, D, Boston
Despite a poor year I would choose Alex Ovechkin just for the mere entertainment value - like him or not, he is one of the league's most interesting personalities.
8) Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington
Because All-Star goalies generally only play one period, I would also allot another top ten pick to a goaltender. Cam Ward has had a very solid year, and has kept his team in many a game with excellent goaltending.
9) Cam Ward, G, Carolina
Finally, to round out my top ten, I'd choose Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, who has been having a great offensive year, with 25 goals so far.
10) Corey Perry, F, Anaheim

We’ll have to wait until after next weekend to see how the official fantasy draft pans out, but I think the NHL has stumbled upon a winning recipe with its new All-Star format.

The 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend begins Friday with the Fantasy Draft at 8 p.m., followed by the Skills Competition Saturday at 7 p.m., finished off by the All-Star Game Sunday at 4 p.m.

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