Zdeno Chara registered 105.9 mph in the hardest shot competition to set a new NHL record Saturday night. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, N.C. – The way NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recalls it, Brendan Shanahan just walked into his office one afternoon and suggested a format that might spice up the All-Star Game.
“He told me what he had in mind,” Bettman said. “And I said, ‘It sounds great. Let’s do it.’ ”
No committees, no focus groups, no navel gazing. Right there in Bettman’s office, the plan to have captains pick the teams for the All-Star Game was hatched and, so far, it looks like a winner. Shanahan will almost certainly be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2012 and as an executive he’s quickly proving he has the ability and the imagination to make a difference in the league’s head office.
Sure, it was a little awkward watching Paul Stastny and Phil Kessel sit there wondering which one was going to be the last one picked. And yes, the skills competition Saturday night was a tad drawn out and could have survived being about an hour shorter. Did we really have to see every single player take part in the breakaway event? Two minutes after the All-Star Game ends, even the most ardent fans will forget who played for Team Lidstrom and who played for Team Staal.
But led by Shanahan, at least the NHL is trying to make something better. Most critics have roasted the league for its lack of imagination and, truth be told, it makes things pretty easy when it trots out the likes of Chaka Khan for the NHL awards in Las Vegas. But by doing something this radical, the league has indicated a willingness to at least try to do something a little more exciting and fan friendly.
Actually, the league has become much more savvy in putting on big events. The Winter Classic is something the league does very, very well, so much so that the opportunity to televise it is what has made taking the entire NHL network package a more attractive proposition.
(On that front, the NHL might have even finally caught a break. Bettman reported Saturday the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger was approved by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission late Friday night. The league’s deals with both Versus and NBC are up after this season and making a deal might be easier now that both are owned by the same company. “Now we’re in the same place,” Bettman said. “So now it will make things a little bit easier, hopefully.”)
The Premiere Games in Europe have been a success and there is talk of expanding them to include Russia next season, though neither the sites for the Winter and Heritage Classics and the Premiere Games has been established yet.
Chances are, we’ve already seen the most exciting of what the All-Star Game has to offer. Even with the new format, the game itself likely won’t be any less of a dud because there is no real motivation for the players to approach it with any sort of intensity. When all is said and done, Friday night’s draft will likely have been the most compelling event of the entire weekend.
And we have Brendan Shanahan to thank for that.
Producer: Ted Cooper
THN will have files from Raleigh, N.C., throughout all-star weekend.
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