NHL wants competitive, fun all-star game
Players given more ownership under new format, says retired forward Shanahan
Retired National Hockey League forward Brendan Shanahan remembers the competitive fire and excitement of the 1996 all-star game like it was yesterday.
In his ninth NHL season and first of two with the Hartford Whalers, he was a starting winger for the Eastern Conference All-Stars against their West counterparts at the Boston Garden.
"Ray Bourque scored [with 37.3 seconds left in regulation] and we were able to hold on to the lead [for a 5-4 win]. Guys were giving it their all," Shanahan told CBCSports.ca during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Shanahan, currently the NHL's vice-president of hockey and business development, said he enjoyed and felt honoured to play in eight NHL all-star games.
Rookies in skills event
The rookies versus sophomores game as part of NHL all-star weekend is no more.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association decided the best young stars of the game would receive better exposure being integrated into the SuperSkills competition on Jan. 29 Raleigh, N.C. (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET).
In 2009, the format for the NHL YoungStars Game in Montreal was changed to include sophomore players against rookies in a wide-open game of three-on-three.
"For some people sitting in the stands it was a very exciting event. For others, who perhaps had different interests other than watching rookies play a scrimmage-type game, it wasn't," NHLPA chief of business affairs Mike Ouellet said during a conference call Wednesday.
Brendan Shanahan, the retired forward-turned NHL vice-president of hockey and business development, added league hockey operations had difficulty, at times, filling out the rosters and specifically, finding general managers that would allow their goalies to play in the game.
"We figured [the skills competition] would be more fun for them … and [not have them] be second cousins at the all-star game," said Shanahan, adding it gives the rookies a chance to rub shoulders with the NHL all-stars and potentially win points and [skills] events for them.
"We saw this as an enhancement to the rookie experience."
— Doug Harrison
But it's time for change and Shanahan, in partnership with the NHL Players' Association, has developed a new format for the 2011 event Jan. 29-30 in Raleigh, N.C.
Last year's game was cancelled because of the Vancouver Olympics in February.
This year, a player draft conducted by the all-star players will replace the conference versus conference approach that has existed since 2003 and kick off all-star weekend on Jan. 28. Fans will continue voting for the six starters — regardless of conference — in balloting that runs Nov. 15 through Jan. 3, with NHL hockey operations selecting the remaining 36 all-stars.
The players from the group of 42 will vote for team captains and two alternates per squad, who will then draft their team from the full pool of players. A roster of 21 players — 12 forwards, six defence, three goalies — will be drafted with no guidelines on choosing by position, but at least one player will be selected from each of the NHL's 30 teams.
A coin flip will decide which pair of captains will select first.
"We're not trying to make it anything other than a great, entertaining and fun event for the players," said Shanahan, who scored 656 goals and 1,354 points in 1,524 NHL regular-season games over 21 seasons.
"We just want to spark the competitive juices that players exhibit in the smallest of games, whether it's on the plane or in an airport or in hallways before games.
"It's about … making it fun for the players and engaging them. They're interested in how the draft shakes down. Do the captains focus on individual talents? Do they focus on the skills competition, on the game? Do they lock up their goaltenders [early in the draft] or go after scoring?"
For years, media and fans have been critical of the NHL all-star game, saying there is little competition and no hitting because players are afraid of getting hurt. Shanahan, for one, said it's time for people to stop saying it isn't a real game.
"If you look at the last couple of minutes of the  game in Montreal, it was a fantastic game," Shanahan told CBCSports.ca, referring to the East's 12-11 shootout victory.
"I knew [all-star games] didn't have the same feel as a playoff game or an Olympic game. [But] it's not something that I ever walked away from and felt we needed to apologize for. I sometimes get defensive when we do apologize for it. I think the game in and of itself is a great one."
Shanahan is confident the game will be more competitive with the players choosing teams.
"I think that the players are inherently competitive and that really comes out in them when they have fun," he said. "So, beyond throwing a bunch of sticks in the middle of the ice and dividing the game up that way, we thought this was a way to give more ownership to the players."
After the draft, 12 rookies will be picked by NHL hockey operations to fill out the two sides for the SuperSkills competition on Jan. 29 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET). Skills events include fastest skater, breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, skills challenge relay, hardest shot and elimination shootout. This year's all-star game will be played on Jan. 30 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 4 p.m. ET).
The Ottawa Senators will host the 2012 all-star game.