By Joe Haggerty
RALEIGH, N.C. Zdeno Chara didnt get what he wanted, but it appears the NHL got exactly what they wanted in their newfound creation.
The NHL All-Star fantasy draft was a goofy hit in its first year of existence in the Raleigh home of the Carolina Hurricanes, and appears to be something that could stick around for a while.
Chara went in the fourth round to Team Staal as the first Bs player taken, and goalie Tim Thomas went in the fifth round to Team Lidstrom on a stage set up at the Fan Fair floor in the Raleigh Civic Center.
Former UVM teammates Marty St. Louis made the announcement that Team Lidstrom would take Thomas, and then gave a shout out to his former Catamounts teammate while announcing the selection.
Chara had mentioned leading up to the event that he really wanted to play with Niklas Lidstrom after admiring the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from afar all these years, but Chara was instead nabbed by Eric Staal and Co. one pick ahead of where the Red Wings defenseman intended to take him.
So Chara and Thomas will be on opposite teams for the first time in more than five years, and everyone will get to see if Thomas prediction from a month ago actually comes true.
When asked then what would happen if they ended up on different All-Star teams as a result of the newfangled draft process, Thomas replied: I win and Zee loses.
Chara wouldnt make any bold predictions on Friday night, but he admitted going up against Thomas was a challenge he would thoroughly enjoy.
He is competitive, he always plays hard and Im sure hes going to play the same, said Chara. Now were on opposite sides.
Both Bruins went among the top 10 players selected by their peers, and showed just how highly both Thomas and Chara are regarded among their peers in their respective roles as All-World goalie and intimidating, strong defenseman.
I was a little bit nervous, but its an honor to be picked and I was happy about getting taken pretty early, said Chara. It was nice to see the guys a little relaxed and a little different from the way we know them from the ice. But it was also pretty obvious that the guys meant business when they were trying to pick the teams.
I liked the draft. It was something different. Well see if they stick with it. Especially with the mic'd up players it was great to see what the guys were thinking. Its always fun to get a look behind the scenes. Its a privilege to be an All-Star no matter who Im playing with. Everybody deserves to be here, everybody is a good player and Im just happy to be here.
Speaking of everybody deserving to be at the All-Star game, as we predicted this morning, Phil Kessel was the last man standing among the All-Star draftees and was picked last among the roster of 36 players. For that honor he was awarded with a Honda car and 20,000 in his name to his charity of choice in exchange for being named Mr. Irrelevant All-Star edition.
It doesnt matter. Im just excited to be an All-Star and happy to be here, said Kessel. Its not a big deal. Obviously the 20,000 for my charity is a great thing, and it should be really good. Itll be nice when Im captain of the team and I can pick them last some time. Nah, just kidding.
A joke from Kessel?
My, oh my, the introverted former Bs sniper really has come a long way since his Boston days of social anxiety and invisible personality.
Will he drive the Honda hybrid he was awarded as the final All-Star selected by his peers?
Yeah, Ill drive it, said Kessel. Ill drive it and put it somewhere.
While the concept will make it quasi-interesting on Sunday when Thomas and Chara line up on different teams after the puck is dropped at the RBC Center, the real star of the weekend was Brendan Shanahans creation within the walls of the NHL home offices: the fantasy player draft.
It was creative and outside the box, and it also worked really well.
Thomas revealed to reporters that there was a message among the players to play up some of the drama, humor and soap opera quality of the proceedings on Friday night, and the players acted like All-Star thespians in that regard as well.
It seemed to be a success and the fans were having a good time, so thats what its all about, said Thomas. I heard that they were trying to sell this as a way for people to see another side of guys personalities, so hopefully that showed up.
Jonathan Toews played off as if he was truly angry when teammate Patrick Kane picked both Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks Captain, and Eric Staal made no effort to hide the nepotism in selecting teammate Cam Ward with the first selection in the entire draft of talented players.
"Nobody really told us what it was going to be like, so nobody really knew what to expect," said Marc Staal, who had to wait to be picked by his brother Eric until after Chara was selected. But it was well done. It was pretty cool, it was a lot of fun. It makes it a little more interesting than East and West, a little different dynamic to it. Hopefully it works out to be a good game.
When there were only a handful of players left to be picked, it really did turn into the uncomfortable sensation of watching one lonely soul be the last person picked for kickball in the schoolyard.
The means the fantasy draft certainly lived up to the schoolyard hype that many hoped it would leading up the event.
It wouldnt be shocking to see this kind of thing become a tradition after it played well the first time around, so lets just hope the players keep the same kind of good humor and playful nature in the coming years.