NHL's All-Star fantasy draft a big success

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NHL's All-Star fantasy draft a big success

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

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.

Okay then.

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.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals have acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.

Washington sent a 2017 first-round pick, conditional 2018 second-round pick, forward Zach Sanford and minor leaguer Brad Malone to St. Louis in the deal that also sent former Capitals goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues.

The teams announced the deal Monday night.

Shattenkirk, 28, is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has 42 points on 11 goals and 31 assists this season and has 66 goals and 218 assists in 471 NHL games

He counts $4.25 million against the salary cap this season. The Blues retained 39 percent of his salary.

Shattenkirk is a right-handed-shooting defenseman who adds more depth and offense to the Capitals' blue line.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.