RALEIGH — To no one's surprise, the Carolina Hurricanes will have three players involved in the NHL All-Star weekend they are hosting, the two obvious All-Stars and a third obvious rookie selection to participate in the skills competition.
Eric Staal was a gimme from the word go, a three-time All-Star already who also happens to be playing some of the best all-around hockey of his career.
Cam Ward's statistics weren't of All-Star caliber a month ago, but they are now. He was penciled in right behind Staal, and just had to avoid tripping over his own laces. Jeff Skinner's inclusion among the 12 rookies invited to come along for the ride was a no-brainer given his play this season and Calder Trophy contender status.
Those three were easy, and there wasn't a standout candidate elsewhere on the Carolina roster. Having two members of the host team on the ice is fairly typical All-Star procedure. Any less than that would have been shocking, any more an unexpected bonus.
While there were no surprises Tuesday - other than the appearance of appropriate weather to kick off what figures to be a steady stream of All-Star announcements over the next 21/2 weeks - there may be a few in store down the road.
The league is expected to announce next Tuesday the players who have been elected captains for this first-ever schoolyard, shirt-vs.-skins operation.
It's possible the players will follow the league's default position of Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, and if fans in a few satellite markets - like this one - are a bit weary of that theme, it's hard to argue that it hasn't been good for the league as a whole.
But given that the All-Stars are choosing their own, it's hard to figure what motives will be at play - and it's entirely possible they could go an entirely different direction and give Staal a tip of the hometown cap. That would inject a little extra drama into the selection process on Jan. 28, with Crosby and Ovechkin in the All-Star players pool. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see how he handles the presence of younger brother Marc Staal, the New York Rangers defenseman, in the draft pool. (Jordan's bum foot, alas, put the kibosh on any triple-Staal shenanigans.)
Whether Staal's a captain or not, there's one little bit of uncertainty still lingering out there that's of interest to Canes fans: Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will serve as co-coach for one of the two All-Star teams. Laviolette could be reunited with Staal or Ward or both.
Fans elsewhere might not care how that works out, but the locals sure will. At the very least, looking up and down the list of names should send a chill down the spine of every hockey fan in the Triangle, transplant and convert, Greensboro Era stalwart and post-2006 newcomer alike. They'll all be here for a weekend of hockey that has a different, more collegial flavor than any of Carolina's postseason runs.
Because of those runs, Zdeno Chara, Patrik Elias, Ales Hemsky, Nicklas Lidstrom and Tim Thomas all know the Triangle well. (Elias, a veteran of all four Canes-Devils series, is a mailing address short of permanent N.C. residency.) Another eight have spent time in the Southeast Division, so they're familiar faces as well.
None of them are as familiar, though, as Carolina's own, and Staal, Ward and Skinner were obvious and deserving choices to represent the host team. Now that they're in, we'll see next week if this All-Star weekend has any surprises up its sleeve.