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Friday, January 28, 2011

Tonight's the night for Staal, et al

Posted by on Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 7:49 AM

RALEIGH—Nobody knows what will happen.

  • Logo courtesy NHL.
The players elected and selected to hockey's All-Star pool don't know who will be chosen first, last, and in between in the first-ever fantasy draft tonight at 8pm in the Raleigh Convention Center.

The fans have been perched on the edge of bar stools in watering holes, and tweeting back and forth in their cubicles when they should actually be working, taking turns with buddies in one speculative mock draft after another. Heck, the players not participating have been doing the same thing, often hilariously and on-air.

The team captains—hometown Carolina Hurricane Eric Staal and Detroit Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom—might know whom they each will choose first (though they haven't spilled even a single bean about it), but after that, they'll be pretty much making it up as they go.

Will Staal pick teammates Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner? If so, which one will he pick first? Will Lidstrom swoop in and poach the leftover Cane just to make Staal sweat? What about Eric's brother Marc Staal? Does he pick teammates or brother first?

And, perhaps most importantly, which All-Star will end up in the shameful position of last picked? Several players have come out this week, announcing that they would be happy to take one for their brothers and bear that embarrassing yoke.

The National Hockey League masterminds of this fantasy draft format—league vice president Brendan Shanahan and commissioner Gary Bettman—have no clue if tonight's draft will be a dud or a compelling spectacle. Many sets of crossed fingers will protrude from the sleeves of many shiny silk suit jackets. Many smiling mouths above designer ties will emit many forced guffaws.

Not knowing what will happen. Isn't that the definition of drama?

But let's be frank for a moment. Hockey players, almost to a man, are understated guys. There's a blue-collar, team-first humbleness even in the superstars of the game. Dentists have to be employed to extract colorful quotations from most of these guys. Will they be able to relax and have fun in front of the cameras for this draft? Will Staal and Lidstrom, neither particularly loquacious or even that quick with a smile, be able to captive as emcee anything like they do on the ice?

I'm betting yes. The players involved are already having a lot of fun teasing each other about being picked last, texting bribes and good-natured threats to the captains. Shanahan also plans to gather players shortly before the event and coach them a bit about coming out of their shells and enjoying the event. But who knows if they will?

No one does. That's drama. And that's why we will watch.

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