Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fantasy Draft A Rousing Success for NHL; Can The Game Live Up To It?

With the goal of creating buzz and energy around NHL All-Star weekend there is no denying that last night’s fantasy draft was a rousing success.  After days of talk around the nation and every office, blog, and TV commentator doing their own mock draft the real thing came last night in Raleigh.  The storylines were there going in.  Would Eric Staal pick his brother? Would the Sedin twins finally be separated?  Would the hometown Hurricanes all play together?

The setup had the feel of a game show, with the captains on each side of the stage and the chairs above for the teams to assemble in.  The combination of fantasy draft and throwback to youth in the school days picking format wondering who would be last created a buzz the weekend has not had in many years. 

In the end Eric Staal would fulfill all his necessary obligations to his team, his family and even grab a Sedin while he was at.  Nicklas Lidstrom would take advantage of the requirements Staal had to make by grabbing the more talented roster.  That is not to say that Staal does not have excellent players on his team because these are all All-Stars, but Lidstrom has players that have more familiarity with one another, which should help in the game itself.

During the telecast the players themselves did their best to roll with the punches and even play to the mood in their interviews whether it be Marc Staal acting crushed or Jonathan Toews looking totally aggrevated with Patrick Kane.  The level of personality on display can only help the sport as a whole when you rarely see players beyond Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin used to promote the game.

This had to be what Brendan Shanahan, League's Vice President of Hockey and Business Development, had envisioned when he came up with the idea of the draft.  More than possibly any other league the NHL All-Star weekend had grown stale and uninteresting to the public because the weekend truly lacked the best things about the sport.  Hockey is a sport when at its best is about the pride, the passion and physicality of the game and few if any of those things happen in the All-Star game itself.  The game is a highlight fest marked by the utter lack of hitting or defense and leaves the fans wanting something more.  The Fantasy Draft might not cure the problems in Sunday’s game alone, but it gave buzz to the weekend and the NHL has to hope that there will be some carry-over from Friday through the weekend.

There are still a few talking points remaining for the rest of the weekend like the Sedin twins playing against one another and some teammates squaring off, but will the buzz of the draft be able to carry over?  If it does not, then some will look at the overall move negatively, but at least for one night the NHL was the talk of the sports world, and that is always a good thing.