The league conducted its first-ever "fantasy draft" on Friday to choose sides for the retooled All-Star Game, with Hurricanes captain Eric Staal and Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom picking the squads in a live telecast from the Raleigh Convention Center.
Staal won the puck toss to select first and took Hurricanes teammate Cam Ward, to the delight of local fans in attendance. Five rounds later, after Marc Staal gave an interview in which he jokingly called his big brother "classless," Eric jabbed back at his brother by dragging out his next pick and calling for Henrik Lundqvist, his brother's Rangers teammate.
One round later, Eric Staal picked his younger brother. "I feel a little bad for hesitating and then saying Hank," Eric Staal said. "We needed a defenseman, and [Marc's] a pretty good one."
Said Marc Staal: "I was just playing mind games. I didn't really care all that much."
Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the dynamic twins for the Western Conference-leading Canucks, each was selected third, Daniel taken by Staal and Henrik by Lidstrom. Said Henrik, "Team Lidstrom got the best twin, that's for sure."
The joking intrigue added some spice to a game that's taken on less and less meaning over the years with the NHL players involved in the Olympics, as they were right around this time last year. The excitement of the Canada-U.S. gold medal match could not possibly be equaled by a regular old All-Star Game, but league vice president Brendan Shanahan tried to come up with a format to keep the fans and players interested.
"It's to just turn it around a little bit on the All-Stars and to throw a little bit of hot sauce on the event," Shanahan said. "You've got players picking teams and players shunning teams, and you want them to go out the next day and sort of feel like, 'Hey, I'm happy to be here, we're all here to have a good time, but you punk, you didn't choose me and I want to beat you.' "
Lidstrom, flanked by alternate captains Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane, took Steven Stamkos with his first pick. Staal and his alternates, Mike Green of the Caps and Ryan Kesler of the Canucks, next took Alex Ovechkin.
The two teams, plus six of the dozen rookies invited, will participate in the skills competition Saturday night. "The players think it's fun," Shanahan said. "Everybody is interested and we want people to see it."