Evgeni Malkin, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, jokes around with Alex Ovechkin (right), of the Washington Capitals, as Ovechkin takes part in the Breakway Challenge during the NHL All-Star Superskills competition in Montreal Saturday Jan. 24, 2009. The NHL all-star game will look like a schoolyard pickup game this year.The league confirmed Wednesday that it is switching from the conference-versus-conference format it has used for years to a player draft conducted by the all-stars themselves, in which captains selected by the players will determine the teams. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
TORONTO - Brendan Shanahan can picture himself standing among his peers, waiting to be chosen for an all-star team.
"I'd probably (notice) each and every single player that went ahead of me in the draft," says the former NHL star. "And I'd probably carry that out into the game with me."
In his role as an NHL executive, Shanahan has worked with the NHL Players' Association to revamp this season's all-star game format. The players have been handed the power and will select the two captains who will then pick the teams that will face off on all-star weekend in Carolina.
It replaces the old conference-versus-conference format and has the potential to create some interesting storylines.
Shanahan, the man behind the makeover, believes the changes will add some spice to a stale event."The intention is to make this a show," the former eight-time all-star said during a conference call Wednesday. "I think the players that have heard about this concept think it's fun. They're interested to see how the draft shakes down."Do the captains focus on the individual talents? Do they focus on the skills competition or the game? Do they lock up the goaltenders or do they go after scoring?"
A number of specific details are still to be worked out, including what the teams will be called and whether coaches will be included in the draft process.
There won't necessarily be one final player left standing when the captains make their picks. Shanahan said they've considered trying to avoid that by allowing each captain to make multiple choices towards the end of the draft.
"It's something that was on our mind right away," said Shanahan. "Ironically, it's probably the players that we've spoken to that are the least sensitive to that. They sort of laugh about it and kid around about it and almost revel in the potential squirming situations."
Another thing to consider is that each team must comprise 12 forwards, six defenceman and three goalies.
"The one thing that maybe differs from all of us playing and picking teams lined up against the garage is you do have positions that you need to fill," said Mike Ouellet, the NHLPA's chief of business affairs. "It's not necessarily top to bottom based on skill."
Fans will continue to have a say in the voting process by selecting the top six players by position. The NHL's hockey operations staff will round out the player pool by choosing the other 36 all-stars along with 12 rookies, who will take part in the skills competition on Saturday night.
As in the past, all 30 NHL teams will be represented.
The last all-star game was held at Montreal's Bell Centre in 2009 and led to Detroit Red Wings stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk each getting suspended for one game. They both elected to skip the event after being named to the Western Conference team.
Other players have been reluctant participants—something Ouellet believes will change now that they've been given a more active role in the event.
"That's something that we're very sensitive to," he said. "I think this format will go a long way to enticing guys to show a little bit more interest in the game."
The immediate reaction from players seemed positive. Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban called the format change "pretty cool" and said he'd use the first overall pick on Lightning forward Steven Stamkos.
He'll likely be one of the rookies invited to participate in January and is anxious to see how the draft plays out.
"What's intriguing about it is that it does kind of bring back that outdoor rink style," said Subban. "It's just a bunch of guys getting together to play the game and put on a show for the fans. I like it."
That's what Shanahan is banking on.
The NHL vice-president doesn't expect the format change to make the game any more aggressive—it'll still be a no-hitter—but hopes it might be a bit more fun. He drew on his personal experience when devising the concept.
"I think (there would be a difference) if a suit from the NHL was tapping me on the shoulder and telling me to go out and win a event, as opposed to Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux tapping me on the shoulder saying 'The team's depending on you,'" said Shanahan. "There's a different feel when your peers are asking you to do something for the team. It becomes a little bit more competitive."
With files from Bill Beacon in Montreal.