Tracee Hamilton
Tracee Hamilton
Columnist

NHL All-Star Game captains have choice roles this year

Eric Staal is worried about what his mom will say. Nicklas Lidstrom is worried about what the Carolina fans will do. Mike Green is worried about being picked last — or he was, until he was named a co-captain. Now that dubious distinction becomes everyone else’s worry.

Staal and Lidstrom face off Friday night in Raleigh, N.C., but not on the ice. Not yet. Instead, the two captains and their henchmen will draft their own teams for Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game. Instead of East vs. West, the game will feature Team Staal vs. Team Lidstrom, and in the process, a lot of grown men will be transported back to their school yard days, when kids picked sides and some poor kid would be picked last.

Was the Capitals defenseman ever that kid? “Probably, but I don’t remember,” Green said. My guess: probably not if the game being played was hockey.

The all-star draft is as eagerly anticipated as the game itself; both will be televised live on Versus. The words “National Hockey League” and “bright idea” don’t always reside in the same sentence, but for their 58th All-Star Game, the NHL employed one of the greatest innovations since slow-motion replay, and a perfect gimmick to draw in new fans. Watching professional athletes pick and choose among their friends, teammates, rivals and enemies to form what they hope will be a winning team — please let this idea — used last summer by Women’s Professional Soccer to select its all-star teams — spread throughout the land. Start with the Pro Bowl.

Green gets to avoid the draft because he and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler are Staal’s co-captains. (Patrick Kane of Chicago and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay will assist Lidstrom.) Instead of sweating out the possibility of being the final name called — “That was my worst fear,” Green said — he’ll help Staal make the tough decisions.

So let’s talk about priorities. Do you have to pick your teammates first? In Green’s case, of course, that is Alex Ovechkin.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “There’d be some complications a little bit. In this process, it’s collectively us three guys pick.”

But of course, he added, “If it was just me, I’d obviously pick Alex first.”

Good answer. So what about rivals? What about . . . the Penguins?

“I would limit it to very few,” Green said. He seemed serious, but it’s almost a moot point anyway because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t playing. Pittsburgh will be represented by defenseman Kris Letang and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Which means there is no chance to see Ovechkin and Crosby on the same line. So, General Manager Green, would it have been a problem if the rivals had been picked for the same team?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think that would happen. I think they’d both get picked first or what-not. It’s all fun and games. Everybody’s there for a good time so I think you kind of put that aside.”

Lidstrom, the Wings’ nifty defenseman, said earlier this week that he might pick Carolina goalie Cam Ward first, in order to make some of the fans in Raleigh switch allegiances. Easy for him to do; no other Red Wings made the team so he can’t anger anyone back in Detroit. Staal reacted to that with managerial panache.

“I would have to figure out something as far as making a trade,” he joked. “If he won the coin flip and ended up taking Cam first, I think it would be . . . I don’t think it would be as fun for our fans, to be honest.”

But Staal has a much bigger problem — his own mother. You see, Staal’s brother, Marc, a Rangers defenseman, is also on the all-star roster. So what’s a guy to do? Pick his teammates first? Pick Ovechkin first? Pick his brother first?

“The way he’s been talking, he’s been telling me to take him first, and then he’s telling me he doesn’t want me to pick him, so he doesn’t really know what he wants,” said Eric of his brother. “You know, we’ll see what happens. I’ve been having some pressure from my mom, making sure we are on the same team.”

Oh, and don’t forget the twins. Of course, there would be twins, just to make it really interesting. Kesler’s teammates, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, are also in the mix, with their on-ice chemistry and eerie twin telepathy. They aren’t a boxed set, so it’s possible the two could get split up. One’s a scorer; one’s a master of assists. Whom do you take?

“When we have our discussions between Mike and I and Ryan; we can ask Ryan who he loves the best and we pick him and leave the other for the other team,” said Staal, before coming to his senses. “No, they are obviously two very, very talented players. And very, very talented players together, and it would probably be weird for them and weird for everybody else to have them on different teams.”

Okay, forget teammates and brothers and twins and all the interpersonal relationships. Let’s approach this thing from a purely strategic point of view. Scorers such as Ovechkin will certainly be the most sought-after players. Where do goalies fit in? Do you take a goalie fairly high? Or, because it’s expected to be a high-scoring game, do you wait a bit?

“Go with the goalie a little bit earlier, I guess,” Green said. “Make sure you have your foundation.”

So you want skill players and goalies. And that leaves defensemen . . . where? The rules stipulate only that each captain picks 12 forwards, 3 goalies and 6 defenseman, in any order.

“They’re just the weakest link all the time,” Green said. “It’s a skills game, so the forwards are going to be above and beyond some of the defensemen.”

And that’s fine with Green, as long as his isn’t the last name called.

 
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