Players deem NHL's new All-Star format OK

New events and draft are fun - but being the last player picked, well ....

Staff WriterJanuary 31, 2011 

— After it was all over on Sunday, after Team Lidstrom had defeated Team Staal 11-10, changes to the NHL All-Star Game were mostly well received by the players who participated.

The common opinion among the hockey stars who gathered for the RBC Center event was to stick with the new format.

The NHL moved from an East-vs.-West format to one in which 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 on Friday night.

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

The draft added a major new twist to the NHL 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."

Byfuglien spoke while sitting in the visiting locker room occupied by Team Lidstrom, named after Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who was the team captain.

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 conference-vs.-conference 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.

Though he called the skills competition "OK," he also thought it was too long for the players and the fans.

"Some of the things were good," Elias said of the skills event. "But I think 21/2 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-vs.-Europe format. A similar format was used from 1998 to 2002, when it was North America-vs.-The World.

"Those were exciting times," Elias said.

All-Star Game MVP Patrick Sharp, a 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," said Sharp, who was glad 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.

javier.serna@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4953

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