RALEIGH, NC – The 2011 All-Star Weekend kicks off tonight as the fantasy draft gets underway from the Raleigh Convention Center at 8:00pm ET (TV: VERSUS, TSN, RDS).
Team captain Eric Staal will be joined by Mike Green and Ryan Kesler, while Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis will assist Team captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
A coin flip will determine which team gets the first pick and a few minor rules will dictate how the draft proceeds. Each team must select their three goalies by the 10th round and their six defenseman will need to be chosen by the end of the Round 15.
Here are a few thoughts we have going into the All-Star weekend:
A Player’s Worst Fear?
A common question posed to this year’s All-Star participants is how will they feel if they’re the last pick in Friday night’s fantasy draft. Almost to a man, the veteran players have denied that it’d be a big deal or embarrassing because they’re ‘honored’ and ‘just happy to be there’.
When the new fantasy draft format was revealed back in November, Brendan Shanahan said that no one seemed concerned about the prospect of being the last one chosen:
“They sort of laugh about it, kid around about it, almost revel in the potential squirming situations.
But at the same time I think that with the NHLPA, we’re working on some scenarios where we can soften that a little bit and draw less attention to maybe one last guy standing. We are working on things such as multiple selections at the end, speeding it up.
I can say this: they’re still All-Stars and the All-Star players we’ve polled, it’s the last worry on their mind. They’re not sensitive guys. They like the fact that this draft, whether you go, as one of them said to me, the guy who goes fifth thinks he should have went third, the guy who went 12th will think he should have gone 10th, so on down the line.”
The younger kids making their first All-Star appearance seem a little more nervous.
As an alternate captain on Team Staal, Mike Green will be able to avoid the draft process and admitted he’s very relieved. “My worst fear is being picked last,” Green said. “At least I don’t have to worry about that now.”
Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux doesn’t have that luxury, but he’s still cautiously looking forward to the weekend’s events. “The fans I’ve been talking to are more excited for the draft than the whole weekend,” Giroux said last week. “If I’m not picked last, then I think it’s a great format.”
Perhaps the biggest unknown surrounding the new fantasy draft is how will the last player chosen react? These days parents do everything they can to avoid uncomfortable situations for their kids. In a sense, the unpredictability surrounding the last pick is refreshing.
A Sign of Struggles, but a Glimmer of Hope
The 2011 All-Star game was originally awarded to the Phoenix Coyotes but had to be relocated due to the financial trouble and uncertainty surrounding the team. If the Coyotes remain in Glendale they’ll host the 2015 event, but even that is an unknown at this point.
On the flip side, the new host franchise has faced it’s share of struggles in a tough market but might be turning a corner. It took the Carolina Hurricanes a few years to gain traction after relocating from Hartford in 1997 mostly as a result of owner Peter Karmanos choosing Greensboro, NC as a temporary home for the team while a new arena was being built. The Greensboro Coliseum had the largest capacity in the NHL but struggled to pull fans from the surrounding areas.
It wasn’t until a memorable 2001 playoff series against the top-seeded powerhouse New Jersey Devils when the Hurricanes finally developed a serious following. Carolina couldn’t overcome a 3-0 series deficit against the Devils, but the team rode the momentum of that playoff performance on to a Stanley Cup in 2005-06.
Mediocre performances since that Championship have forced the Hurricanes down a rebuilding path that required drastic payroll cuts and low expectations for the 2010-11 season. Shockingly, Carolina finds themselves just one point out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference this year and have pulled that off with a promising, but very young hockey team.
Karmanos has been looking for a new ownership partner since the passing of Thomas Thewes in 2008, but with attendance up, payroll trimmed, and a competitive product on the ice, the Hurricanes will be looking to thrive off the attention and excitement surrounding this weekend’s events.
Skinner is an All-Star Story, but Staal Faces Pressure From All Sides
It’s too early to declare a favorite in the Calder Trophy race for Rookie of the Year, but the highlight of the young core in Carolina has to be Jeff Skinner. The 18-year-old is the youngest player in the league and the youngest ever to be named to the All-Star game, an honor well-deserved after the rookie notched 18 goals in his first 50 NHL games.
The knock on Skinner was always his 5’10 height and small stature, but he’s had no trouble translating his goal-scoring abilities to the NHL level. With all the hype surrounding Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin heading in June’s draft, Skinner has had the biggest impact of all from the 2010 draft class.
With two teammates and a brother in the game, team captain Eric Staal will have some tough early decisions to make. As a defenseman, Marc Staal will have to be chosen by the 15th round and Mother Staal wants Eric to do the right thing. “I’ve been having some pressure from my mom, making sure we are on the same team,” Staal said.
“The way [Marc has] been talking, he’s been telling me to take him first, and then he’s telling me he doesn’t want me to pick him; so he doesn’t really know what he wants. You know, we’ll see what happens.”
Captain Lidstrom didn’t ease the burden on the hometown hero when he suggested that he might target Staal’s teammate Cam Ward early. “I know he wants Cam on his team being in front of the home crowd and everything,” Lidstrom said. “So might be a good strategy to take him and maybe take the crowd out of it and get the crowd on our side a little bit.”
After hearing of Lidstrom’s comments, Staal seemed a little frustrated. “I would have to figure out something as far as making a trade,” he said about the possibility of Lidstrom stealing his goalie. “If he won the coin flip and ended up taking Cam first, I don’t think it would be as fun for our fans to be honest. I think we have to have all of us on the same team and let the home crowd cheer for one team. Obviously he’s probably having some fun with it. We’ll see what happens when it comes down to draft day. Obviously just like any other draft, you never know what can happen.”
Coaching one bench for the All-Star Game will be Joel Quenneville and his current assistant Mike Haviland from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The other team will be led by Peter Laviolette (Philadelphia) and Alain Vigneault (Vancouver). The co-coaches for this squad were determined by the team from each conference with the highest points percentage on January 8.
TheHockeyWriters.com will be reporting from the All-Star Game in Raleigh, NC all weekend. Check out our coverage of the event and it’s participants here.