RALEIGH NC - JANUARY 30: Team Staal lines up on the ice before they play against Team Lidstrom in the 58th NHL All-Star Game at RBC Center on January 30 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The NHL's unique All-Star Draft is Thursday night in Ottawa, and it's the best part of All-Star Weekend. That's probably because it's not dull as rocks.
The 2012 NHL All-Star "Fantasy" Draft is Thursday night in Ottawa, and just as it was a year ago, the event will likely steal the weekend show. It's become the centerpiece of the entire All-Star occasion in just one year of existence so far, and that's for one good reason: It's ridiculously entertaining.
The All-Star Game is great and all, but even for diehard hockey fans, it's just one of those things you watch because there's no playoff football this weekend.
Defense doesn't exist, the poor goalies are hung out to dry, the compete level is nowhere near a typical regular season game, and it represents generally everything most fans hate about hockey. It can be entertaining at times, but in the end, it's just a really high scoring game that lacks the sizzle and emotion of the rare 9-8 regular season game.
The theory is that if you take the best players in the league and throw them on the ice at the same time, you'll get a great game. But in doing so, you're taking out most defensive strategy, role players who are vital cogs in team success, anything that resembles physical play, and much more. You're essentially just watering things down, and you're banking on the idea that speed and finesse and pretty goals are the only thing that make the game great.
That's why the Skills Competition is a bit of a step up. It takes the best of what these guys have to offer -- whether its Zdeno Chara's monster of a shot or Daniel Sedin's shooting accuracy -- and puts it on full display. It also helps that it's something completely different, and that we only get to see it once a year.
Oh, and the chance for hilarious things to happen is so much higher than during the All-Star Game.
But the Skills Competition, despite minor improvements each year, isn't must-see television either. It's entertaining, it's fun, but if there's something better to do on a Saturday night, we'll likely make other plans. It's not appointment viewing by any stretch of the imagination.
At the end of the day, we don't want to watch the Game because it's pretty dull. We watch the Skills Competition, but aren't completely enthralled with it. The draft, though, is everything we want in All-Star Weekend.
We get to see the best players in the game honored for their skills. Draft order is an indication of those skills and an insight into how players view their peers. The entertainment value is off the charts -- whether we're wondering what the captains will say next, or how long it'll take Zdeno Chara to pick a player on rival team, or what the reaction will be when Scott Hartnell is inevitably taken last.
Somehow, they've eliminated the skates and the sticks and the pucks and they've created an event that's much better than they could do with actual hockey things happening. That's because we don't watch All-Star Weekend for the hockey. We'll watch on Monday and Tuesday for that. We're watching this weekend as a way to connect with the players on a different, unique, entertaining level.
The All-Star Game and Skills Competition fall short each year in that they can't overcome the dullness that permeates them. What's the difference between some guys skating through cones in 1996 and some dudes doing it in 2011? What's so exciting about an 11-8 game of pond hockey once a year?
The Player Draft is an event that can never get dull, though, and that's evident even in just its second year. It changes year-to-year based on who's involved, and the storylines are both entertaining and timely each time around. It's here to stay, and because of it, the All-Star Weekend is actually something worth looking forward to once a year.