NEW YORK (AP) — Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin might get the thrill of being picked No. 1 all over again.
No, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals aren’t losing their superstar captains, but Crosby or Ovechkin could be selected first when the NHL All-Star game gets a makeover unlike any other.
Call it hockey’s version of a school yard pickup game.
The NHL announced Wednesday that it is switching from the conference-vs.-conference format it has used for years to a player draft conducted by the All-Stars, in which captains selected by the players will determine the teams.
“We know what the All-Star game is and we know what it isn’t,” said Brendan Shanahan, an eight-time All-Star who is now the NHL’s vice president of hockey and business development. “We’re not trying to make it anything other than a great, entertaining and fun event for the players.
“We’re not going to be combing the dressing rooms telling them to hit each other. We just want to spark their competitive juices.”
The NHL and the players’ association have been working for months on ways to spice up the All-Star game. The final plan was hammered out Tuesday in Toronto during a meeting of the league’s general managers.
“It wasn’t a matter of looking at five or six different formats to change the event and picking one, it was a building process,” said Mike Ouellet, the NHLPA’s chief of business affairs. “We looked at ways to reinvigorate things and give it back to the players and put them back in their youth.”
Shanahan said there was never much of a discussion of placing greater impact on the game in the way baseball did by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league.
“In the All-Star games that I was lucky enough to play in, it was the last thing on my mind,” Shanahan said. “I just didn’t think it would be fair to hockey purists to place something that important, and that is earned over an entire season, on the shoulders of players that are at an entertaining All-Star game.”
After a one-year hiatus because of the Olympics, NHL All-Star festivities will return during the last weekend of January with the Carolina Hurricanes serving as host.
The NHL didn’t feel pressure to revamp things, it was just looking for a fresh look.
“It’s not something that I ever walked away from and felt that we needed to apologize for this game,” Shanahan said “I sometimes get defensive when we do apologize for it. The event in itself is a great one and one that I was always proud to be a part of.”
Fans will continue to vote via electronic ballots from a list of 100 players, but their votes will only determine the first six All-Stars. The remaining 36 players will be chosen by the NHL’s hockey operations department.
Then the fun begins.
Two captains will then be chosen, and they will draft the rest of the players to their yet-to-be-named teams. Those teams will compete in the All-Star game and skills competition.
“The goal here was to give the game back to the players, put them back in that environment that they are comfortable with and used to,” Shanahan said. “So often at the end of practice, players are picking teams or dividing teams or even going back to their youth whether it was in their driveway or in the street playing road hockey.
“That was the concept to make it fun and entertaining for the players and let that hopefully translate to all of our spectators.”
Fans will vote for team of All-Stars by selecting three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. In addition to the 100 players on the ballot, fans will also be able to vote for write-in candidates.
There will be 42 players picked overall, with each team consisting of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and three goalies. The NHL hockey operations department will also choose 12 rookies to take part in the skills competition, rounding out the 54 players involved in All-Star weekend.
“It would be cool. It’s a little bit different look than the East-West, something new,” Crosby said. “It would probably make it a little more competitive.”
Every NHL team will still be represented by at least one player during the weekend’s festivities.
On Jan. 28, the teams will be picked in the newly established draft — with a coin flip determining which team chooses first. Once the All-Star game rosters are picked, the captains will select the rookies to fill out the skills competition rosters.
Crosby is already weighing the pros and cons of being a captain.
“It would be fun, but it would be a little bit of pressure. Guys would all want to be picked,” he said. “You’d have a pretty good pool to pick from, though.”
Teams will participate in six skills, including fastest skater, breakaway challenge, accuracy shooting, skills challenge relay, hardest shot and the elimination shootout.
While Shanahan said players themselves aren’t worried about being the last guy picked, the NHL is sensitive to such issues.
“Nobody wants to be that guy,” Crosby said with a laugh. “It’s gotta be someone, but nobody wants to be that guy.”
All the drafting logistics haven’t been worked out yet, but the league is looking into potentially having final rounds of multiple selections so no player feels the awkwardness of waiting until the end to be picked.
“They sort of laugh about it and kid around and almost revel in the potential squirming situation,” Shanahan said with a laugh.
AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.