When the All-Star Game comes to Raleigh in January, it will bring with it a significant twist.
For the first time in the event’s existence, teams will chosen by two player captains who will take turns drafting their teams from the available pool of players that are voted in by fans and selected by the NHL Hockey Operations Department. No longer will their be the East vs. West or North America vs. World formats that have been used in years past.
“I think it’s a neat idea,” said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who has played in three consecutive All-Star Games and won the event’s Most Valuable Player award in 2008. “It’s pretty cool, obviously changes things up and gives the fans something different.”
Players selected to participate in the event will vote for the two captains. From there, the captains will select their teams during a live event in Raleigh on Jan. 28, one day prior to the game.
Immediately, thoughts turned to elementary school dodge ball and the dreaded feelings that come with being picked last, which could admittedly still be a little tricky under the new format.
“There will be a little pressure on the captains to disrespect an All-Star by picking him last,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “It will be a little different than the grade five playground where you get picked last and you home crying, not that I ever had to deal with that.”
While players tend to go with experience in these kinds of matters, there seems to be at least a decent chance that Staal, as a host player, could receive the honor. He acknowledged that the captain would indeed have to make some tough decisions, but did not see that being too big of an issue.
“Either way, you’re in the All-Star Game so you can’t be too upset,” he said.
Following their selection of teams, the All-Star captains will also divide 12 rookies into two teams to participate in the skills competition. There will not be a YoungStars game between two squads as there has been in previous years.
The inclusion of young players makes it a near certainty that Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, who has 15 points in his first 15 NHL games and currently leads the league's rookie scoring race by 7 points, will be involved.
Given the way he’s played – he currently ranks 15th in overall scoring, tied with perennial All-Stars Staal, Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom – he may even have a chance of playing with the big boys.
“That’s quite a bit for any player,” said Maurice of Skinner’s point production thus far. “We’re happy with Eric Staal’s production at 15.”
"Before the season if you had asked me, I probably wouldn’t say that," said Skinner of if he could have predicted such a strong start. "I’ve just been fortunate to be on the end of some great plays by my linemates. It just sort of creeped up on me."
The selection process for the All-Star Game has changed slightly due to the new format, but the spirit of it will be the same. Starting Monday, Nov. 15, fans will vote for three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie, who will be the first players to make the team but not necessarily start. Previously, fans would vote for starters from each conference, meaning twice as many players would earn nods from fans.
Rookies chosen for the skills competition will compete for the team that drafted them. Events at this year’s version will include fastest skater, breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, skills challenge relay, hardest shot and the elimination shootout.
Rounding out with some Hurricanes-specific news, Maurice said that Joni Pitkanen and Brandon Sutter will play in tomorrow’s home game against Philadelphia despite sitting out Wednesday’s practice for “minor maintenance.” Both put in a full workload during Tuesday night’s game, playing 23:43 and 16:56, respectively, and were taking regular shifts throughout the night.
Maurice also said that he expected Cam Ward to make his fifth consecutive start in goal against the Flyers.