Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cross Checks [Print without images]

Friday, January 27, 2012
Daily Debate: Which All-Star team is better?


Today, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate which of the drafted All-Star teams is better.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, an interesting night in Gatineau, Quebec, just across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, as the NHL tried on its player draft in advance of the All-Star Game for the second year in a row. And while it didn’t provide the drama of a year ago, when a stricken Phil Kessel was the last player drafted, there were lots of interesting moments in Year 2, whether it was Zdeno Chara letting teammate Tyler Seguin hang until late in the proceedings, or his counterpart Daniel Alfredsson managing (with the good graces of Chara) to collect all the Ottawa Senators involved in the game, including defenseman Erik Karlsson, whom Alfredsson took with the first overall pick. For my money, it remains the highlight of the weekend. Unless the skills competition has changed, it is a dog’s breakfast of events that would take an MIT graduate to figure out, and the All-Star Game is, well, the game. But the draft seems to capture the imagination of both players and fans, and that is the crucial element to making the All-Star Weekend work. Now, on to the nuts and bolts of the draft: Who do you think came out on top? It was interesting to talk to people both in the business and outside whose views were wildly divergent on which team looked the strongest. I guess that’s a good indication that there was no shortage of talent from which captains Alfredsson and Chara had to pick.

LEBRUN: No question, the draft is the best part of All-Star weekend. The skills and the game, well, I think I’ve made my point on that many times. In fact, I’m trying to stay positive this week. NHL executive Brendan Shanahan reminded me Thursday night of my constant bashing of the event. OK, point taken. While the game remains a joke, I grant that the weekend as a whole is fun for the fans in the host city, the players and their families, and the league and their sponsors. I’ve never doubted that. But I would just like to see the game itself spiced up somehow. My suggestion to Shanahan last year was to pit the NHL’s best against KHL’s best from Russia. At least one year, anyway, just to change things up. It would bring back memories of Rendez-Vous ’87 in Quebec City. But back to Thursday night's All-Star draft, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I knew both captains were taking it fairly seriously when I ran into Daniel Alfredsson about a half-hour before the show and he told me he had a couple strategies laid out. I noticed a piece of paper he had in his jacket pocket, on which names and rankings were jotted down. The man was ready!

BURNSIDE: Did Alfredsson’s paper say “All Sens, All The Time”? Here’s what I like about Alfredsson’s team and why I think, for those poor misguided souls who actually care, that Team Alfredsson will run roughshod over Team Chara on Sunday: all those Senators. If anyone is motivated to have a good showing on Sunday afternoon, it will be Alfredsson, the Senators’ classy captain; Jason Spezza, often maligned both in the market and outside it; burgeoning superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson; and the surprising Milan Michalek. I talked to Spezza on Thursday night about the extra juice the team’s strong play has added to the whole All-Star weekend, and you know those guys will want to put on a good show for the hometown fans. I’m not sure there’s going to be that kind of motivation for Team Chara, outside of guys such as Chara and Marian Hossa, who used to play here. I thought it was interesting that Chara held back in trying to cut Alfredsson’s grass and grab a couple of Sens, but he’s obviously a lot nicer than I would have been in his shoes.

LEBRUN: Know this, the nice words Alfredsson and Chara had for each other right before the drafting began was not an act. Those were genuine feelings. Chara looked up to Alfredsson when they played together on the Senators, and some of the great leadership qualities that Chara brought to Boston were born under the tutelage of Ottawa’s captain. Having said all that, I believe Team Chara will crush Team Alfredsson on Sunday. Sorry, but any team that has Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin on the same roster cannot in any way lose a game. Speaking of respect among players, it shows you yet again how Datsyuk is viewed by his peers that Chara took him with his first pick. During our preseason interviews in New York City in September, Datsyuk’s name was brought up the most among the other stars we spoke with when asked which player they’d pay money to watch. That says a lot.

BURNSIDE: Hard not to root for a guy like Datsyuk, who is so well-respected and humble at the same time. Remember when we told him how his peers regarded him, and he seemed genuinely shocked at the praise. That said, this isn’t a game that necessarily rewards two-way play -- and with Steven Stamkos, Daniel Sedin (he’s the goal-scoring Sedin, by the way), James Neal, the red-hot Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux (the Pride of Hearst, Ontario; I feel compelled to put those words in capitals for your benefit, my friend), I don’t see any way that Team Chara matches up offensively. And, oh yeah, of the top defensemen in the league, there’s Kris Letang, Shea Weber and Karlsson lighting it up from the back end. So, here’s my question to you: Who comes away with All-Star MVP honors? My guess is hometown boy Jason Spezza.

LEBRUN: Well, I went on record on Twitter on Thursday night, saying Steven Stamkos would win MVP honors, and there’s no reason for me to change my mind. If Alfredsson has any kind of game, though, and he’s in the ballpark, I have to think the handful of writers who vote on the MVP award (you and I have had the privilege a few years) will give the Senators' captain strong consideration given the emotional intangible. Think Ray Bourque, the 1996 All-Star Game MVP in Boston. It would be hard to resist that angle for Alfredsson if he has a great offensive game.