Columnists, Hockey, Sports

5-Minute Major: NHL All-Star Game draft still needs fixing

No one wants to be picked last for their middle school dodgeball team.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

Even if you’re an NHL all star, you don’t want to be drafted last.

After years of simply dividing the all stars by their respective divisions — Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific — to play in a four-team bracket to decide the winning team, the NHL decided to mix up the format and return to a draft format.

There were four celebrity captains chosen by the League, and All-Star captains were chosen based on who would make the most sense for the celebrities. 

This year, Michael Bublé, who joked he was tripping on mushrooms, was paired with Quinn Hughes, the captain of the Vancouver Canucks, and his New Jersey Devil brother Jack Hughes, while Canuck Elias Pettersson also served as captain. 

Justin Bieber teamed up with Auston Matthews as captain and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Tate McRae drafted her team with Colorado Avalanche stars Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, while comedian Will Arnett worked alongside Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The snake draft was conducted with Team Hughes getting the first pick based on an order decided by a lottery, followed by Team Matthews, Team Mackinnon and finally Team McDavid getting both the fourth and fifth picks before the selections doubled back in reverse order.

With a draft conducted by athletes and celebrities choosing from friends and teammates, personal bias was always going to dictate the strategy.

Team Hughes picked the leading point-scorer in the NHL, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with their first pick, but from then on, most teams focused on picking their friends. Team Hughes managed to get all but one of the Canucks onto their team.

Matthews and Rielly brought aboard their Leafs teammates as soon as they could, bringing aboard William Nylander and Mitch Marner with their first two selections. 

Nathan MacKinnon grew up idolizing Pittsburgh Penguin legend Sidney Crosby, so his first pick was both logical and emotional. However, the Avalanche players’ next selection was also their own teammate, Alexandar Georgiev.

I don’t have an issue with teams being personally selected. I love that the captains were taking bribes. The draft brought out a lot of the personal connections between players who don’t have an obvious connection to each other, which offered a fun look into their personalities and humanized them. 

Matthews chose former Boston University terrier and current Arizona Coyote, Clayton Keller, after the two became friends when they won gold in the U-18 championship as teammates on the National U.S. Development Team.

And immediately before this, Matthews picked Keller’s teammate at BU — Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars.

If I think there is anything that can drive the growth of the sport, it’s player involvement, even including something as inconsequential as the All-Star Game draft.

Learning about the players gives people someone to follow, get attached to and look up to. That’s part of the entire point of the All-Star Game in the first place. It’s definitely not trying to broadcast the best hockey that can be played, considering how offense-focused and injury-averse the hockey being played in the All-Star Game is. 

The Skills Competition is the closest we get to watching good hockey — and watching the best hockey players show off individually is one of the most engaging parts of the entire weekend.

Social media accounts also produce a constant stream of content, both from official team accounts as well as other influencers invited by the NHL interacting with the players, creating a lot more access to these professional athletes than any other part of the season. 

Posts of press conferences, fit checks, locker room interactions, goalie hugs, and podcasts flood fans’ timelines throughout the weekend.

There is no shortage of player personality in the All-Star Game.

So the draft is unnecessary.

I was so close to tears when my beloved Oliver Bjorkstrand, the sole representative of the Seattle Kraken, was not picked for the draft. 

Instead, the last round, which also included Anaheim Duck representative Frank Vatrano, San Jose Shark Tomáš Hertl, and Vincent Trocheck of the New York Rangers, had their names placed in envelopes and were randomly assigned to each of the four teams.

I get that the organizers didn’t want a definitive last pick, but I can’t imagine being one of the last four guys remaining on the board feels much better than being the single last pick.

Bjorkstrand was probably wishing he was still in San Diego like he had originally planned with his family. It made my heart hurt.

I don’t want to have to watch guys get picked last again — by their peers, especially. They’re all all stars, and they all earned their right to be there, whether or not everyone agrees that they deserve to be there.

The captains already pick their teammates if they are still on the draft board anyway, so playing as divisions would not change much. 

There’s something fun about forcing rivaling players to work together one day out of the year, too.

Anything that doesn’t include anyone getting picked last.

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