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Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Short of nixing event, All-Star changes work

By Pierre LeBrun

Well, they got it halfway right, anyway. At least the rookie game was canceled.

If I had my way, the NHL All-Star Game would have been canceled, too.

Honestly, with the immense success of the Winter Classic, which now has a Canadian duplicate, why is there still an All-Star Game?

Well, first, because there's a corporate tie-in to All-Star weekend that remains important despite the outdoor games. Second, because for certain markets, hosting the All-Star Game remains an important event that helps showcase the game and reach out to new fans. That's certainly the case this season in Raleigh, where the Carolina Hurricanes no doubt will do a terrific job hosting this thing.

So, given that canceling the event wasn't an option, kudos to NHL executive Brendan Shanahan and Mike Ouellet of the NHL Players' Association for making lemonade out of lemons.

Seeing the All-Star captains pick the players in a Friday draft Jan. 28 is a terrific touch, one that young hockey fans in general will get a real kick out of.

And really, when it comes to the All-Star Game, if you're older than 25 and you actually care about the outcome of that game, odds are you'll be living in your parents' basement until you're 40. This is for the kids. And certainly as a kid growing up in Northern Ontario, I truly looked forward to the All-Star Game. Wayne Gretzky's hat trick at the 1983 All-Star Game and Mario Lemieux's six-point effort in 1988 (plus Mats Naslund's five assists) were two highlights of my youth.

Mind you, by far my favorite All-Star Game ever was 1987 in Quebec City. Rendez-Vous '87, pitting the former Soviet Union against the NHL's best at Le Colisee, that's untouchable.

It's why, when Shanahan a few months ago asked me for my opinion (charitable on his part, I know), I suggested this for a new format: KHL's best from Russia against the NHL's best. You'd certainly get a real game out of it. Anyone watch the preseason game in St. Petersburg between SKA and the Hurricanes?

Fact is, the relationship isn't yet where it needs to be between the KHL and NHL for that to be a possibility. And I don't think NHL GMs would want to send their top players into a "real" game in which they could potentially get injured.

So in the meantime, let's live with what we've got. The draft Jan. 28 will be fun. The game will be what it is, nothing more, nothing less. Will I be watching? Only because I will be there working.