NHL players to pick All-Star sides

NEW YORK -- The NHL All-Star Game will look like a schoolyard pickup game this season.

The league announced Wednesday that it is switching from the conference-versus-conference format it has used for years to a player draft conducted by the All-Stars themselves, in which captains selected by the players will determine the teams.

The 2011 All-Star Weekend will be hosted by Carolina on the last weekend in January.

Under the new format, two captains per team will select the remaining All-Stars in any order they choose. Those teams will compete in the All-Star Game and SuperSkills competition.

NHL vice president Brendan Shanahan says the goal is to "make the game more fun for everyone" and to "inject more excitement and intrigue into all the events."

Fans will vote for a starting team of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, regardless of conference. Voting begins Nov. 15 and runs through Jan. 3.

The league's Hockey Operations Department in Toronto will name the remaining 36 All-Stars to form a player pool, along with 12 rookies, for a total of 54 players. The 12 rookies will participate in the skills event, but the rookie game will not be played.

Every NHL team will still be represented by at least one player during the weekend's festivities.

The players will then elect two captains, who will choose sides in a fantasy draft on Jan. 28. Each team must have three goalies, six defensemen and 13 forwards, but the captains can fill their teams in any order they choose.

Pittsburgh's Sidney 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."

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.

"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."

Information from ESPN.com hockey writer Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.