Hockey fans stopped caring about the N.H.L. All-Star Game long ago, so the league turned to Brendan Shanahan, its go-to guy for fixing whatever ails the game. His solution: take a page from the schoolyard pick-up handbook. Make fans wonder who will be picked first — and last.
With that twist, Shanahan may have rescued the game from its slide toward irrelevancy.
Now fans are talking about All-Star weekend, although it’s not Sunday’s game in Raleigh, N.C., that intrigues so much as the televised choosing up of sides that will take place Friday night.
“It all goes back to the schoolyard,” said Shanahan, 42 and starting his second year as a league vice president.
“It’s in the players’ hands now. I’m just sort of sitting back and enjoying watching them get prepared for it.”
Under Shanahan’s formula, the six players from each conference who win the fan balloting choose a captain (Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Eric Staal of Carolina) and two alternates are named for each team. The captains then take turns selecting from a pool of 36 remaining All-Stars.
That has raised some interesting questions. Will Alex Ovechkin be picked first? Will Staal choose his brother Marc of the Rangers? Will the inseparable Sedin twins of Vancouver finally be separated? And perhaps most intriguing, who will have to endure the ego-bruising experience of being picked last?
“I don’t think I really listened to people who criticized the All-Star Game as much as I was asked to inject a little more life into it,” said Shanahan, who retired as a player in 2009 after appearing in eight All-Star Games in a 21-season career that included 656 regular-season goals, three Stanley Cup titles, and gold medals at the Olympics, Canada Cup and world championship.
“I always thought as a player it was a real honor to go to the game,” he said. “So for me it wasn’t a matter of thinking this thing wasn’t any good. It was just, if a player could get his hands on it, what would he do? And this was my best guess.”