Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
If the NHL's goal in instituting wide-ranging changes to the 2011 All-Star weekend was to generate an increased interest in the midseason event, then mission accomplished.
There is no doubt that the changes made regarding the way teams are being selected this year has led to more people talking about the All-Star Game. In previous years it seemed die-hard hockey fans would be the only ones actually anticipating All-Star weekend, but the rule changes have helped the league cast a wider net.
The league came up with an ingenious plan when it decided to let the players choose this year's All-Star squads and even the absence of a superstar like Sidney Crosby from the festivities cannot put a damper on what lies in store for the hockey world this weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But, that novel idea alone does not ensure that the 2011 All-Star weekend will be a success. After all, for most folks this will be a TV event and there is still a sizeable margin for error concerning how the format changes will come across in terms of the broadcast.
The NHL will get its first chance to impress us in just a few hours when Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom -- the captains and namesakes for this year's respective All-Star teams -- will choose their sides.
Eric Staal is serving as the captain of the home team this weekend in Raleigh.
At the start of Friday's All-Star fantasy draft we can expect both North American TV crews (Versus in the U.S., TSN in Canada) to make a big deal out of the delicate situation Staal is faced with.
For all intents and purposes, Staal is serving as the captain of the home team this weekend in Raleigh, since he is the star player on the host city's Hurricanes. The large hometown contingent at RBC Center will likely expect Staal to select his Hurricane teammates Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner in the early rounds, but Staal's Carolina brethren won't be the only ones on his mind.
Staal's younger brother, New York Rangers defenseman Marc, will also be up for grabs when the draft gets underway and its safe to assume that mom and dad expect the Staal boys to wind up on the same team.
Then again, I wouldn't be completely shocked if Marc Staal was left for the later rounds; after all, isn't it a safer bet to disappoint your parents than your teammates. If you're anything like me, you've probably gotten your parents' expectation levels nice and low by this point.
Lidstrom, on the other hand, will not be faced with the same difficulties as Staal. The legendary Swedish defenseman is the lone Red Wing in the talent pool and he also doesn't have a sibling in the event either.
If you'll allow me to go off on a comic-book-nerd tangent, there is a specific thing that concerns me about the look of this year's event and that is how prevalent of a feature the NHL's Guardian Project will be this weekend.
The league had a good idea to appeal to younger viewers by tabbing famed comic book impresario Stan Lee to create superheroes based on each of the NHL's 30 teams, but the execution is simply dreadful. Most of the characters are given laughably obvious names like Anaheim's The Duck or Pittsburgh's The Penguin, but even worse is how every one of them looks like a comic book hero or villain that is already famous (I'm looking at you, The Canuck, or should I say Batman).
The league's Guardian Project website (www.guardianproject30.com) threatens that the characters will "come to life" during the All-Star Game. Not sure exactly what that means, but let's hope the actual air time for the Guardians this weekend will be kept to the minimum.
The NHL has done an excellent job of drumming up interest in this year's All- Star weekend, no easy feat considering how stale these events have become in all professional sports.
The beauty of the All-Star fantasy draft lies in its simplicity. Let's hope the NHL is able to reflect that sentiment in the presentation and give the fans an event to remember.