The NHL All-Star team fantasy draft took place last night for the first time ever, introducing a new format meant to inject enthousiasm into what is traditionally a pretty lackluster affair. The All-Star often sounds a lot better than it actually is: a dream team of the world’s most elite players getting together for a game, playing for bragging rights, teaming up with the people that they usually face. You would imagine that this would be an exciting game, except for the sad reality of exhibition games in all pro sports: a careful, slow, polite game where nobody tries to hurt each other, the results don’t matter and nobody wants to show off too much.
The NHLPA introduced this reality tv style format mostly for the benefit of the fans, hungry to see more hockey intrigue and spice up this friendly bout. Brendan Shanahan said that he did consult players to see if they would find this format acceptable, and while most put on a good-natured grin and said that it would be a lot of fun, everyone cringed as they thought of the poor last man standing. But this was exactly what the fans ate up. Just like any competitive reality tv show pits a group of colourful characters together with the knowledge that someone was going to get cut at the end, the NHL All-Star fantasy draft was set up for this moment.
Well, the moment has come and gone, and the last man was no other than the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel. It was quite a moment, as Eric Staal couldn’t resist the chance to get a little dig at Toronto, although it felt awkward for everyone, even the guy who presented the new car. The new car was an obvious consolation prize, like ‘everyone gets a trophy’ day, but it didn’t remove the air of embarrassment. The only one who didn’t look embarrassed was Alex Ovechkin, who was eating it all up and capturing the moment on his phone.
Of course, the sports analysts have been all over this format, stating that it’s not right to embarrass professional athletes this way, while others brush this off as being a trifle. In all honesty, it is a trifle. The draft was not based on stats or merit. It was a fun, light-hearted event where friends chose friends. There was a bit of strategy employed, as the race for goaltenders intensified and the two teams tried to outdo the other by picking strength on strength (Chara and Byfuglien were chosen one after another) and brother on brother (the Sedins were taken separately and consecutively).
This wasn’t science. It was entertainment. And while this formula makes for great tv, the NHL is not exactly bursting at the seams with great personalities. A couple of things that could be improved on this event include the media coverage, the presence of the panel, and the seemingly selective impromptu interviews during the event. The panel and the constant impromptu messages actually slowed down the event and took away the momentum and suspense of making the picks. Miking the players was a fun bonus, unfortunately, they didn’t have a heck of a lot to say with the exception of the surprisingly funny Matt Duchene, who joked about being voted off the island.
The perfect candidate for a real reality tv show would actually be Patrick Kane, who has the right combination of on-screen arrogance and strategizing to be the ideal villain, the one that everyone loves to hate. Among the other surprises of the night was the geeky Jonas Hiller, who looks a lot more impressive on the ice when he wears his black Darth Vader goaltender mask and Keith Yandle, who is a lot better looking off the ice than previously thought.
But the real big issue on the night was the embarrassment. Which is funny, because that’s the very last consideration given when you have a reality tv show. Which begs the question: is the NHL more sensitive than reality tv? A group of boy-men millionnaires are really that sensitive about being picked last to play? In the harsh world of competitive shows, where someone is eliminated with fierce regularity every week for everything from cooking to designing clothes, is the NHL really not able to take a little of this?
Sensitivities aside, the NHL All-star fantasy draft was a success. More people tuned in, talked about the event and are likely planning on actually watching the game on Sunday. The NHLPA found a way to make the All-star weekend itself more competitive and more compelling- even if some poor guy feels like the last one invited to dance.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.