NHL's stars will light up Raleigh

Staff writerJanuary 23, 2011 

— If the 58th NHL All-Star Game a week from today at the RBC Center is anything like many of the previous 57, there will be goals galore. Defense will be perfunctory and hitting nonexistent.

Consider the scores of the past three All-Star games: 12-11, 8-7, 12-9. The East all-stars won the past two games - there was no All-Star Game last year because of the Vancouver Winter Olympics - and three of the past four.

Not that the East-West stuff matters anymore. The game next Sunday does not pit the Eastern Conference stars vs. the Western Conference. It's Team Staal vs. Team Lidstrom. It's the first All-Star Game with a Fantasy Draft to divide the teams. It's all about being new and fresh and fun - so say NHL types.

Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, the home-team kid, will captain one team and ageless Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings will be the opposing captain. They will be drafting their teams Friday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

The only thing left now is to flip a coin and see who gets the first pick. Staal may make the call. Heads or tails?

"I'm a heads man," he said.

There, Staal's giving away part of his strategy. But that's it.

Here are some other things to keep in mind this week about the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend:

Drafting an idea

The idea for the Fantasy Draft is generally credited to former NHL All-Star, Brendan Shanahan, who now works for the league. Shanahan, in turn, says he talked with former All-Star defenseman Rob Blake about doing something different to spice up a game many believe had gone stale.

Think about it. There are 42 all-stars. Someone will be the No. 1 pick and someone will be picked No. 42. All the goalies and all the defensemen must be taken by the end of the 15th round, meaning someone will be the last man standing, trying to act like it's not big deal. That in itself will be worth seeing.

A lot of fans probably have wondered who would be picked first, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals? Alas, Crosby may not play because of post-concussion symptoms. Ovechkin has been joking he may go late in the first round.

Lidstrom has been saying he might pick Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, just to spite Staal. Or could it a bluff to work a pre-draft deal with Staal? The suspense builds.

Show us some skills

On Saturday, they will all be at the RBC Center - the 42 all-stars and 12 rookies - for the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition. This will give fans a chance to not only see the NHL stars but several of those in contention for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

Jeff Skinner of the Canes will be there. So will Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers, Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins and ... well, you get the idea.

The six competitions: fastest skater, breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, skills challenge relay, hardest shot and elimination shootout.

Staal and Marian Hossa tied for the accuracy honors in 2007 and Staal nearly won in 2008 (Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins won the event in 2009). And everyone will want to see if someone can top that 105.4 mph shot by the Bruins' Zdeno Chara in 2009. Maybe Chara?

Who's that behind the bench?

Peter Laviolette is an All-Star coach and could be working behind the "home" bench for the first time since he was pushed off it in December 2008.

Laviolette gained one head coaching honor when his Philadelphia Flyers had the highest points percentage in the East on Jan. 8, the cutoff date set by the league. Joel Quenneville, whose Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year, is the other head coach.

Laviolette has lifted the Cup, of course. He did it in 2006 with the Hurricanes. But the Canes failed to reach the playoffs the next two seasons, Laviolette fell out of favor with owner Peter Karmanos Jr., and that was that.

Who knows, Laviolette could coach Team Staal. Maybe with Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, as his goalie. Talk about adding irony to the occasion.

Did you know?

According to the NHL, Ward will be one of five Conn Smythe winners in the game. The others: Lidstrom (2002), Brad Richards (2004), Malkin (2009) and Jonathan Toews (2010).

Only three players are 35 or older: Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay (35), Tim Thomas of Boston (36) and Lidstrom (40). There are 21 players making their first All-Star appearance, including Ward.

The Canes' Eric Staal is one of 10 players who are captains of their respective teams, including Lidstrom and Crosby. Quite a group.

Who's missing?

Some eyebrows were raised when just one member of the Flyers, forward Claude Giroux, was selected after fan voting decided the first six stars and NHL Hockey Operations added the final 36. No Danny Briere?

Turns out there will be Briere. When Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames asked out of the game this week because of the health of his grandmother, Briere was named to the team as his replacement.

Goaltender Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils will one day be in the Hockey Hall of Fame but he won't be in the All-Star Game. His numbers this year, like his team's, are bad. Then again, Brodeur probably has seen enough of the RBC Center.

The Cup is coming

It will be back in Raleigh. The Stanley Cup.

Fans will be able to see the Cup at the NHL Fan Fair, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Convention Center. Tickets are $8 for adults and children until Jan. 27 and $10 after Jan. 27 (Harris Teeter customers can purchase $8 tickets through Sunday).

Not that the Cup is the only attraction. The fan festival will have other NHL trophies (18 in all) on display and interactive games and plenty to see.

Jeff Skinner of the Canes and Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL draft, will be making appearances - Skinner at 4 p.m. Friday and Hall at 2 p.m. Saturday.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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