NHL makes All-Star Game format change official

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Joe pretty much covered this yesterday, but it’s one thing to hear about the discussions and well-sourced conjecture and another to receive an official announcement.

What was rumored will in fact be true: the 2011 NHL All-Star Game will remove the conference vs. conference format in favor of a draft conducted by the players themselves. When I first heard about this announcement, I felt some pride because I pointed out that the league could benefit from a “Team Crosby vs. Team Ovechkin” format … but apparently Eric McErlain beat me to it and even got most of the details correct. Darn.

Anyway, for those of you who want to see the details in black-and-white, here they are via a league press release. As you’ll notice, while fans won’t dictate every roster decision, they still will get a say in which players appear in the game.

  • From a group of 100 players on the ballot, fans will vote for their top six All-Stars by position without regard to the Conference in which the player plays. Fans will also have the ability to write-in a player of their choice.
  • The three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie receiving the most votes will be named the first NHL All-Stars.
  • The remaining 36 All-Stars will be named by the NHL Hockey Operations Department for a total of 42 All-Star players (3 goalies, 6 defensemen and 12 forwards per team).
  • Following the selection of the All-Stars, NHL Hockey Operations will designate 12 NHL rookies to participate in the Honda NHL SuperSkills on Saturday, January 29 for a total of 54 NHL players taking part in All-Star weekend.
  • After the 42 NHL All-Stars have been selected, two captains will be chosen per team by the players.
  • On Friday, January 28, 2011, a draft event will be held in Raleigh with all 54 NHL players (42 All-Stars and 12 rookies) during which the captains will draft the remaining members of their respective teams.

A few other facts really quick: the first pick will be determined by a coin flip. Each side will choose six rookies each from the pool of 12 for the skills competition. The league seems like it will make the genius move to televise that player draft as part of the All-Star weekend’s festivities.

I cannot speak for Joe on this one, but at least from my perspective, I think it’s a fantastic way to spice up an event that has gotten a little stale over the years. Having two captains pick from that pool will evoke some memories of pickup games for players and fans alike … and might even bring out some interesting controversy involving the players who are chosen last.

Lightning give Vasilevskiy the hook after very rare Jurco goal

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By just about any measure, Monday’s been lousy to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

He was pulled with a few minutes remaining in the first period after Chicago Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead, scoring those three goals on just eight shots on net.

You could summarize Vasilevskiy’s awful start by those numbers, or by how rare the 3-1 goal was for the scorer.

Tomas Jurco failed to score a goal or an assist in 16 games with the Red Wings, then went pointless in nine more games with Chicago before finally scoring his first goal of the season on Monday.

Now, Jon Cooper didn’t pull Vasilevskiy because Jurco scored that tally. Still, it rubs a little extra salt in his wounds all things considered.

Coach Q thinks Anisimov will be back by playoffs for Blackhawks

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The bad news is that Artem Anisimov seems likely to miss all – or at least most – of the regular season for the Chicago Blackhawks with his lower-body injury.

The good? Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville believes that Anisimov will be ready once the playoffs swing into motion, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports.

Anisimov was hurt when he got tangled up with Canadiens forward Alex Radulov on March 14:

The Blackhawks have been filling Anisimov’s typical spot alongside Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin with Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz lately. There have been flashes of brilliance with Schmaltz, but Chicago would probably feel most confident with Anisimov back in his familiar place.

Chicago’s Central lead is pretty secure over the Minnesota Wild at the moment, which likely reduces motivation to rush Anisimov back before he’s truly ready. The Blackhawks close out their regular season on April 8, so there’s still time for him to heal up.

Ducks demote Enroth, so Gibson’s close to a return

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The Anaheim Ducks are flying high – er, waddling with some swagger? – right now thanks to Jonathan Bernier‘s somewhat shocking turnaround, but the pending return of John Gibson is promising.

(Especially since the Ducks will likely want him to shake off some rust before the playoffs begin.)

While it’s not clear if he’s exactly 100 percent healthy just yet, the Ducks sending Jhonas Enroth back to the AHL is a strong sign that Gibson is close.

Enroth actually never got a shot to start for the Ducks, as his last NHL appearance came on Nov. 30, closing off his ill-fated run with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering that Enroth was once a fairly hot commodity as at least a promising backup, it will be interesting to see how his 2017-18 season pans out. Will he get more or less of a chance than he received this season?

Bernier, meanwhile, is richly rewarding the Ducks for sticking with him.

He’s provided them with a Vezina-caliber March: 9-1-1, 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with one shutout. You almost wonder if there’s at least some potential for a goalie controversy if Gibson stumbles whenever he gets back into action … but hey, having two good goalies to choose from is better than none.

(Which was the scenario that must have scared the Ducks when Gibson got hurt in the first place.)

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning almost certainly haven’t faced the Chicago Blackhawks in a game this important since the two teams were vying for a Stanley Cup.

While the Blackhawks have already punched their ticket to the postseason and are merely trying to pad their lead in the Central Division, the Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives. At the moment, they rank three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final spot in the East. With a game in hand, they can make up a lot of ground tonight.

With all of that in mind, it should be an entertaining contest. You can check it out on NBCSN, watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.