Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Young Stars

Yesterday, the NHL announced the Young Star participants for the All Star Game. Here they are:

West Conference


Sam Gagner Edmonton
Patrick Kane Chicago
Peter Mueller Phoenix
David Perron St Louis

Alexander Edler Vancouver
Erik Johnson St Louis
Jack Johnson Los Angeles
Matt Niskanen Dallas

East Conference


Niklas Backstrom Washington
Brandon Dubinsky NY Rangers
Tyler Kennedy Pittsburgh
Milan Lucic Boston

Tobias Enstrom Atlanta
Kris Letang Pittsburgh
Mike Lundin Tampa Bay
Marc Staal NY Rangers

The teams have a different format from last year's game where teams had eleven men rosters with 6-7 forwards 3-4 defencemen and a goalie each. This year teams have four forwards, four defencemen and no goalies.

Teams will play a three on three contest shooting on the goalies selected to the All Star Game. This does not seem to be an improved format. First the young stars game will not showcase any young goalies and this is a mistake. They could have easily selected Josh Harding of Minnesota and Carey Price of Montreal (Price is the top rookie goalie in the NHL so far this year despite the fact he is currently in the AHL - if it's unacceptable to have a young star in the AHL he could be replaced by Ondrej Pavelec from hometown Atlanta) as young star goalies. There is no good reason for them to be absent.

Further, there are too many defenders and not enough forwards selected. In a three on three game, it is most logical to play two forwards and a defenceman at most times. Thus, it would be most logical to have twice as many forwards as defenders on the roster (as in last year's game). The lack of forwards selected has kept players like Martin Hanzal of Phoenix and Kyle Chipchura of Montreal from selection.

It also seems that the definition of a young star has changed. Last year, any player on his entry level contract who had never appeared in a previous young star or all star game was eligible. This year the selections are all rookies.

When this many changes are made to the format without any compelling hockey reason for it, it seems likely that there is a desperate retooling underway to make the game more popular to the viewing audience. It is unlikely for such a move to work because the event is the all star weekend. The young stars will be at most a diversion. They cannot be the main event. In this year's game, the vast majority of the roster are players who are unknown to the average fan. That is a situation that is not possible to be fixed without significant changes to what a young star is.

In my opinion, the best young star in the NHL is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is only 20 years old and younger than some of the players on the young stars roster. He is not part of the young stars game because he will be a starter in the regular game. Even if he wasn't on the regular game roster, he would not be a young star because he is in his third NHL season and played in last year's All Star Game.

The idea of showcasing the NHL's younger stars is a good one, as long as the young stars really are showcased by the event. The problem is the event is a short game played by a handful of NHL rookies (few if any are household names) and it won't even have young star goaltenders.

I think there are a few solutions to make the event more viable. Make it open to all NHL players under a given age (for example a 24 year old cut off). This would allow some of the NHL's real young stars (Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin etc.) to be showcased. There is no reason that a player cannot be both a member of the all star and young stars roster.

Another idea, if the NHL wants to try to highlight their young talent, is to change the All Star Game format to be young stars vs. veterans in the All Star Game. The potential drawback is that the veterans could win, thus showing the young stars are not yet ready for prime time.

I think a young stars game with only rookies, no goalies, too many defencemen and not enough forwards is a poor move for the NHL. I hope that they go back to the previous format in the future - either that or scrap this part of the all star weekend. This current format does not look like a winner.

I think a young stars game with only rookies, no goalies, too many defencemen and not enough forwards is a poor move for the NHL.

Did you really expect the NHL to do something intelligent? Do what I do and use the all-star weekend as a good chance to take a break from hockey.
1) Its a worthy concept, but in reality doesn't work. In actuality its merely a gimmick that had a shelf life of one year.
2) Despite the silly rule changes, its not going to attract an audience/create a buzz. A 3-3? Are they kidding?? Why not play with open nets while you're at it!?!
I really wish they'd bring back the old guys for a good Legends game. the 3-on-3 stuff just doesn't work well and it get boring rather quickly. This isn't a great showcase other than knowing who is the best shinny player.

The NHL shouldn't fear its past. Bring out Stevens, MacInnis, and Francis!
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