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

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

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Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs