New All-Star format a hit with the players

Staff writerJanuary 30, 2011 

Team Lidstrom's Dustin Byfuglien (33, Atlanta), Matt Duchene (9, Colorado), and Duncan Keith (2, Chicago) celebrate with goalie Boston's Tim Thomas (30) after Team Lidstrom's 11-10 victory in the NHL All-Star Game Sunday January 30, 2011, at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.


— After it was all over Sunday, the changes to the NHL All-Star Game, held at the RBC Center, were mostly well received by the players that participated.

The common opinion among the players was to stick with the new format.

The NHL moved from an East vs. West format to one where the All-Stars voted to pick two team captains in advance and the captains picked the teams in a draft, which was held at the Raleigh Convention Center Friday.

The league also added an event to the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition, held at the RBC Center Saturday.

The draft added a major new twist to the NHL’s All-Star Game that many felt had gone stale.

It also made a lot of players sweat, but most saw that a good thing.

“Definitely,” Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said, asked if the NHL should keep the new format. “It wasn’t bad. I think a lot of people enjoyed it a lot more. It makes things a lot more interesting. It makes guys nervous, sitting out there not wanting to be picked last. Everything went smooth.”

He was sitting in the visiting locker room occupied by Team Lidstrom, named after Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who captained the team.

That highlighted the flexibility the new format afforded.

Byfuglien, now of the Eastern Conference, was sitting next to his old teammate, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith.

The old format would not have allowed the one-time defensive pair to reunite.

“It’s always a pleasure to get to play with him,” Keith said.

That flexibility extended to where positions were pulled from. For example, five of the six goalies picked for the game were from the Eastern Conference.

Several players said the draft added something more to the game.

“It brought more fuel to the All-Star Game,” Keith said.

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar agreed.

“Changing it up got us a little bit more fired up for the skills, for the fans, for the game,” he said. “I thought it was a good idea.”

But New Jersey Devils veteran wing Patrik Elias was less than thrilled with the changes.

While he called the skills competition “OK,” he thought it was too long for the players and the fans.

“Some of the things were good,” Elias said of the skills competition. “But I think two and a half hours, it’s tough to keep focused and keep it exciting for the fans.”

He was even less impressed with the draft.

“I don’t know about the draft,” he said. “I think it was more exciting for the fans and for the media to kind of see who was going to be the last guy. It makes you awkward to be in that position and someone had to be.”

Elias didn’t think the new car that was given as a consolation to Toronto Maple Leafs center Phil Kessel made up for being picked last.

“Nobody will remember that,” Elias said. “They’ll remember he was last.”

Elias said he’d like to see the NHL go to a North America versus Europe format. A similar format was used between 1998 and 2002, when it was North America versus the world.

“Those were exciting times,” Elias said.

All-Star Game MVP Patrick Sharp, a Chicago Blackhawks forward, liked the changes.

“It’s tough to say,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to change the format. The fact that they did seemed to generate a lot of interest, but I had fun with it. A little nervous going into the draft. There’s a lot of talk about that last guy, but there was really no pressure at all. Everyone had fun with it.”

All in all, Sharp thought the entire weekend, the game, the skills competition, the draft and the general vibe, were a success.

“I think Carolina should be proud,” Sharp said, who was glad that Team Staal captain Eric Staal had picked him.

Though Staal and Sharp play in different conferences, they’re both from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

“I’ve got to thank him for putting me on his team,” Sharp said. or 919-836-4953

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