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Shanahan sees the fun in new ASG format

by Dan Rosen
Brendan Shanahan wants the all-stars to feel as though they're back in their old neighborhoods when they get to Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 28. He wants them to remember what it was like getting ready for a road hockey game with the kids from the block, what it felt like when captains were chosen and had the responsibility of picking sides for the game.

There were nerves as they stood in the cold and waited to have one of the two captains point in their direction, to say, "You, you're on my team." There was excitement when they got chosen. There were debates as to who should go ahead of who and why. There was the fear of being the last man standing. There was strategy among the dueling captains.

"That was the concept here," Shanahan said Tuesday during a conference call announcing the new format for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover, "to make it fun and entertaining for the players and let that translate to all of our spectators.

"If the players are entertained and enthused, the fans are going to be entertained and that was the focus on all of this."

There will be 42 All-Star players (at least one from each team) in Raleigh in late January and 40 of them will line up Jan. 28 and wait for one of the two captains to point in their direction. The captains will be selected by the All-Star players themselves prior to the draft.

Also, 12 rookies will be in the draft Jan. 28 as the captains look to bolster their rosters for the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition.

Shanahan said the NHL and NHLPA still are working out the logistics of televising the player draft, but it's obviously the goal to have people see this so they can feel the tension and experience the drama right along with the player who is wondering when he'll be selected, by whom, and what his team will look like.

"The players that have heard about this concept think it's fun," Shanahan said. "They're interested to see how the draft shakes down. Do the captains focus on individual talents? Do they focus on the skills competition or on the game? Do they lock up their goaltenders or go after scoring? Everybody is interested and we want people to see it."

Added Mike Oullete, the Chief of Business Affairs for the NHLPA: "These are the 54 best players in the world. I don't know how you make those selections. It'll be interesting to see how guys go about choosing between the two best right wings in the world."

Shanahan, who played in eight All-Star Games over his illustrious 22-year career, expects the format will get the players' competitive juices flowing.

"If a suit from the NHL was tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to go win an event as opposed to Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky telling me to do it … there is a different feel when your peers are asking you to do something," Shanahan said. "It becomes a little bit more competitive. I'd probably know each and every player that went ahead of me in the draft and carry that out into the game with me."

Oullete believes this new format also will entice players to want to be participants at All-Star Weekend.

Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk both skipped the festivities in Montreal in 2009 for injury reasons and were suspended one game each by the NHL. The League said even injured players selected as All-Stars had to show up in the city to partake in the ancillary events surrounding the game.

"That's something that we're very sensitive to and this format will go a long way to enticing guys to show a little bit more interest in the game," Shanahan said.

A few areas still are being ironed out by the NHL and the NHLPA, most notably what to do when the draft gets down to the end and only a few players are left standing. There is a concern about players being embarrassed by being among the last ones standing, or worse yet, the last one left.

Shanahan said the players he's talked to "are the least sensitive to that," but the concern still lives among folks at the PA and within the NHL.

"It's a good question and something that was on our mind right away," Shanahan said. "(The players) laugh about it, kid around about it and almost revel in the potential squirming situations. At the same time, 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."

He said possible scenarios are going with some speed rounds at the end in order to lessen the embarrassment.

"That was the concept here, to make it fun and entertaining for the players and let that translate to all of our spectators. If the players are entertained and enthused, the fans are going to be entertained and that was the focus on all of this." -- Brendan Shanahan Vice President Hockey and Business Development for the NHL

"I can say this, they are still all All-Stars and the players we polled, it's the last thing on their mind," Shanahan said. "They're not sensitive guys, but it's a fair question."

The new format does not include the YoungStars game, which was pushed aside, Oullete said, because some people felt it wasn't all that compelling. Instead, the rookies will be integrated into the SuperSkills competition, with the captains choosing what events they participate in.

"We felt this would be more fun for them, give them better exposure and not be second cousins at the All-Star Game," Shanahan said.

The coaches likely will be selected in traditional fashion -- the coaches of the first-place teams in each conference become coaches for the All-Star Game -- but they likely won't be involved in the player draft and they will not be choosing who participates in what events at the SuperSkills competition.

Since this is not a conference vs. conference format, the coaches will have to be assigned a team.

"I had a funny conversation with Luc Robitaille, who said that depending on where he got drafted he would go home and get more sleep and try to win the car (as MVP of the game) the next day," Shanahan said. "It's about making it fun for the players and engaging them. Players are inherently competitive and that really comes out in them when they have fun."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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