NHL All-Star Game Fantasy Draft
by Trevor Whenham - 1/26/2011
The NHL, in its ongoing battle for more than niche relevance, has decided that the thing to do is to radically overhaul the All-Star Game format. That would be bigger news than it is if the league had any loyalty to their old format in the first place. They have typically played Eastern Conference against Western, but they have also tried other experiments like North America versus the World in the past.
Instead of admitting that the reason no one really cares about the All-Star Game is that the players don’t like being there and that hockey is really boring without hitting, fighting and defense, they have tried their most radical approach yet. The league has chosen two captains and four alternate captains, and those players will take turns picking teams from the rest of the all-stars picked to play in the game. It will be like one giant game of road hockey, except it will be on ice.
The two captains, which were voted on by the all-stars, both make sense -- Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defenseman in the league and the closest thing to an elder statesman the league has right now, and Eric Staal is the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, the team hosting the all-star festivities. Joining Team Lidstrom as assistant captains are Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Mike Green of the Washington Capitals and Ryan Kesley of the Vancouver Canucks are on Team Staal. Each team must be made up of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and three goalies. The draft will take place on Friday night right before the Skills competition -- which is, as in basketball, the only part of the all-star weekend worth watching.
Simply put, I think the format is ridiculous. At least in the other formats -- East vs. West or us against the world -- you have someone to naturally care about and root for. This way it will be hard to know who to cheer for because you’ll need to be constantly looking at your program just to know who is on which team. Instead of relying on the fact that the fans know which players play in which conference or are from which country we are left with pure randomness. You’re also likely to have less chemistry because at least in the other formats players are playing with guys that they play against regularly so they know them well. If the league feels that the best thing they can do to make their product interesting is turn it into a silly fantasy draft then maybe there are bigger issues they need to deal with.
But wait, there’s more. To show how cool the league is they have teamed up with Stan Lee, the comic god, on the Guardian Project. Lee has created a new superhero for each team, and they will be unveiled at the all-star festivities. There are some really brilliant insights here -- Toronto’s, for example, is the Maple Leaf -- a walking and talking Maple tree. Phoenix’s is The Coyote, a mysterious drifter of the American desert. He can apparently manipulate sand and has a pack of coyotes at his service. With ideas as ridiculous as these, is it any wonder that the league gets mocked as much as it does?
One of the reasons why the league and the more enthusiastic media members tell us we are supposed to be really excited about this format is all of the strategy involved in the draft. It will, they say, be like fantasy football on skates. The problem is, though, that that’s just not the case. There are a number of reasons why this won’t be an interesting draft, including:
No one cares about the All-Star Game - Players have very little incentive to win this game, and they have shown in recent years that they don’t play hard in it at all. If there were some incentive then the captains would employ serious strategy to make their picks. There isn’t, so they won’t.
Loyalty - These guys have to work with some of the guys they are drafting. Carolina center Jeff Skinner would not be an early pick by any means, but you can be sure that Staal won’t leave him on the board until the end. Lidstrom has no teammates to worry about (the fact that the second best team in the West -- and a perennial superpower -- only has one all-star is another issue), but he does have several fellow Swedes he has played with in the Olympics to worry about. Concerns like that will inevitably skew the draft process.
It’s all offense - There is virtually no defense played in the All-Star Game. Goaltenders are given no hope and little chance. There are very few penalties, so special teams are mostly irrelevant. It’s all offense all the time in the league. That takes away a lot of the strategy that would normally be involved in deciding what order to pick players in -- you just pick guys who can score regardless of where they play.
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