Battle of the Sexes Part Two: Grading the All-Star Teams: Team Staal
All the mock drafts, all the predictions, and all the guessing of who could go where is finally done and over. With the finishing of the NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft, the rosters are finalized, and now it's time to grade how the captains did in the school-yard pick.
Some of you might have read the joint-analysis Liz Brownstein and myself did earlier this week, where we analyzed our picks as if we were Nick Lidstrom and Eric Staal, respectively. Now that the excitement of the draft is over, it's time to see just how much the captains listened to our advice and what they did with their choices.
In case you missed it, Team Staal got the first pick, which immediately turned our previous mock-draft on its head since Liz, picking for Team Lidstrom, had the first selection. Not too surprising was the fact that Eric Staal went with an Eastern-Conference based team.
What was surprising was just how heavily Staal and his assistants based their team on the players from the East. Likewise, Lidstrom seemed to be picking with much more of a victory-oriented strategy while Eric Staal, under pressure from his home crowd, friends, and his teammates, seemed to pick guys he had played with before and other Carolina Hurricanes teammates to give the crowd someone to cheer for. The result gave a very clear picture of how the rest of this weekend might turn out, or at least a clear picture in my mind, and it heavily favors Team Lidstrom.
So, to give an idea of how Eric Staal did with his selections, I will grade each of his picks and give my analysis. You can find Liz's analysis of Team Lidstrom here.
Round 1: Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes)
Pick Grade: B-
Some might say that my grade for this pick is a bit harsh—considering Cam Ward is Eric Staal's teammate, and the fans were itching to have Ward and Staal on the same team to give the Caniacs of the area something to cheer for.
I would have given this pick a much higher rating had Staal had the second pick, but this was the first overall pick in the draft—a pick which Staal could have used to select Steven Stamkos, current leader in NHL scoring. For those of you not familiar with the NHL All-Star Game, it is heavily focused on scoring. I really don't believe Lidstrom would have selected Cam Ward with his first pick, so I think Staal could have still drafted everyone he wanted without having to sacrifice the bulk of the skill in this draft.
The pick isn't bad: Staal got who, in my eyes, is the second best goaltender in the All-Star Draft. But then again, why would you use the first-overall pick to pick the second-best of anything?
Opponent's Pick: Steven Stamkos
Round 2: Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
Pick Grade: A-
This pick I can understand much more than Staal's first-round pick, and was more than likely decided by the assistant who announced it: Mike Green. In a field with no Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin, and Steven Stamkos no longer available, the next best pick would have to be the dynamic Russian Alex Ovechkin.
He may be having a rather slow year in terms of his scoring production, but the bottom line is he's still one of the most feared players in the game and will likely benefit Staal's team by netting at least one goal, as well as giving him a boost for the Skills Comp.
By the way, definitely a hilarious move by Ovechkin to whip out his cell phone and very vividly and distinctively start snapping pictures of a poor Phil Kessel, who was the last All-Star sitting waiting to be selected.
Opponent's Selection: Duncan Keith
Round 3: Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks)
Pick Grade: A
The first Sedin twin to be drafted, Daniel Sedin is a choice that really couldn't go wrong. His brilliant scoring touch and complete skill set make him the ideal choice for an All-Star team. The only downside: he has a twin brother who plays a very similar game and also has a very talented skill set.
On top of that downside, there's also the bitter fact that Henrik Sedin, his twin brother, is not on the same team. Therefore I would say this pick isn't exactly perfect, since the opposition was able to pick up the other half of this tandem.
That being said this was a fantastic selection, giving Ryan Kessler a teammate to partner up with and get the chemistry flowing, as well as another great skill set to help for Saturday's Super Skills competition.
Opponent's Pick: Henrik Sedin
Round 4: Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)
Pick Grade: B
The only flaw I can find with this pick is that Chara is really not a big scoring threat, counterintuitive of his already 11 goals this year. Chara is a defensive-defenseman, not particularly known for his offensive production, and that alone kind of makes me think he wasn't the greatest choice for a first selection of defenseman in an All-Star game sure to have goal opportunities a-plenty.
That's not to say this choice is without pluses. As Eric Staal said, him and his team won't have to worry about stickhandling through this giant, which will help their team significantly.
They already have to put up with trying to get through Nick Lidstrom, and that's going to be a problem enough for their scoring. Additionally, if Chara can get that gargantuan slap shot away, he could earn his team a goal, something that's critical for an All-Star team to get from its defensemen.
Opponent's Pick: Shea Weber
Round 5: Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Pick Grade: A
Rick Nash was my first pick when I did my initial mock draft earlier this week, so it thrilled me to see Eric Staal pick him also. This is a very smart decision for one reason: in his three All-Star appearances, Nash has a whopping 10 All-Star points. Not to mention, it was also nice to see him go after an interview in which he was showed his displeasure about being left at that point.
Every single All-Star game, this guy picks up at least one goal. Odds are he's going to score again, maybe even a few times. He's been a very good bet to be the MVP of the All-Star Game before, and chances are he'll be able to do it again.
In fact there's really no downside to this pick—Nash can contend for a number of the Super Skills events and will inevitably perform very well on Sunday. In fact, I'm astonished Nash wasn't one of the first four to go. I have to give props to Staal for grabbing this All-Star game stud while he had the chance.
Opponent's Choice: Tim Thomas
Round 6: Henrik Lundquist (New York Rangers)
Pick Grade: B
I'll admit it's a solid goaltending pick to add to the already-selected Cam Ward, but by this time I'm sure you're noticing a pattern.
Eric Staal is picking primarily Eastern Conference players—exceptions being Rick Nash, because of his affiliation with Staal from Team Canada in the Vancouver Olympics, and Henrik Sedin, being a teammate of Assistant-Captain Ryan Kesler.
Lundquist is not a bad choice by any means, hence the grade, but at the same time I think Staal's Eastern Conference bias made him overlook one of the top goaltenders in the All-Star Game in Jonas Hiller.
I believe Hiller would have been a much more solid pick here, but since Staal has only seen Hiller once this season, he really doesn't know what he missed out on. Lundquist will hold the fort down well, but I don't think Staal won the goaltending portion of the draft.
Opponent's Choice: Danny Briere
Round 7: Marc Staal (New York Rangers)
Pick Grade: B-
After a rather hilarious exchange in an interview where Marc Staal expressed his feigned displeasure at not being selected by his older brother Eric in his previous selection, and Eric proceeding to mess with Marc's head by selecting "From the New York Rangers....... Henrik Lundquist!"—I can't blame Eric Staal for picking his younger brother.
If I was Marc, I definitely would have given Eric a joking punch-on-the-shoulder backstage after the draft.
Marc Staal is a solid defenseman who will, no question be a good pairing with someone like Zdeno Chara; however—this pick gets a lower grade because Staal is once again selecting a buddy over selecting with any type of strategic gameplan.
At this point Nick Lidstrom's picks Dustin Byfuglien—a hard-nosed, gritty d-man who can not only stop players from scoring but net a few pucks of his own with his fantastic forward background.
Byfuglien was available to be picked, but Staal opted to sacrifice such an early pick to take his brother, who is certainly one of the weaker defensemen in this draft.
Opponent's Pick: Dustin Byfuglien
Round 8: Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks)
Pick Grade: B+
It's kinda hard to say anything bad about selecting the leading scorer of the Chicago Blackhawks. A guy with 26 goals and 46 points seems to be in no way, a bad choice. And odds are come gametime, it won't be a bad choice.
This was actually a rather good strategic move on Staal's part to take Sharp away from Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and, immediately following Sharp's selection, Jonathan Toews—spoiling that Blackhawk chemistry that was developing for Nick Lidstrom's side.
However, even he admitted that he was surprised go to as early as Round 8. So was I. With a need to get some offensive defense to go with Mike Green at this point, being forced to select Patrick Sharp was a sticky point that Staal should have been able to avoid.
Moreover, with the nature of the All-Star game being familiar to Staal, I think it would have actually been the better choice to go for the excellent-stickhandling Jonathan Toews, who has the ability to shine in situations like those presented in the defensively-loose All-Star game. That aside, he did get a good forward who will likely contend in whatever Super Skills competition he's inserted into.
At the same time, he also was forced to avoid filling the rest of his needs; namely, as previously stated, a good scoring defenseman.
Opponent's Pick: Jonathan Toews
Round 9: Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks)
Pick Grade: A-
I have to admit, when Jonathan Toews was Nick Lidstrom's selection of round nine, I thought to myself: "Oh boy Staal, this is your chance to fix yourself right here," and he did. Finally, Staal picked up the outstanding offensive-defenseman he needed to partner up with Mike Green, creating a high-power duo that can not only move the puck to the skilled forwards, but blast home a few goals of their own if given the opportunity.
Boyle has a whale of a slap shot, great hockey sense, and can lead any offensive rush that Staal's team needs him to. It's hard to believe Boyle went undrafted by any team, and is now one of the most feared defensemen in the San Jose lineup—a team which has much more talent than its record indicates.
No doubt there were some people in Nick Lidstrom's team quietly cursing to themselves upon hearing Boyle's name called here.
Opponent's Pick: Marc-Andre Fleury
Round 10: Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
Pick Grade: B-
When round 10 rolled around, Eric Staal had a choice to make: Jonas Hiller or Carey Price. While they're both fantastic goalies, I think Staal's inclination to go with the more-familiar Carey Price over the virtually-unknown Jonas Hiller was a huge mistake.
Let me say this first: I'm in no way bashing Carey Price. Price is having an outstanding year in Montreal, proving to the humongous Habs nation that the Canadiens choice to keep him over playoff-hero Jaroslav Halak was a good one.
Price bounced back from a mediocre year and is now making a solid case for the Vezina with solid statistics that have backstopped the Canadiens to the point where they're now one of the stingiest teams in the NHL. And considering their very small average size, that's really saying something about Price.
However, much more quietly, Jonas Hiller also has thrown his name into that Vezina hat, and really nobody's paid him any attention—up until just a few weeks ago when glowing pieces promoting him were released, campaigning for him to get a slot in the NHL All-Star game.
Hiller has propelled the Anaheim Ducks to what many people consider to be a surprise playoff-contender in the West right now. His skills are incredible—his lateral movement from post-to-post may darn well be the absolute best in the NHL, and yet nobody pays him any attention.
Less than two weeks ago, Hiller beat Price when the Ducks met the Canadiens in Montreal. I think the fact that Hiller has been so underrated made it an absolute shame that he was overlooked to the point where he was selected last out of the goaltenders—despite the fact he is probably one of the top three in the All-Star Game talent-wise.
Opponent's Pick: Jonas Hiller
Round 11: Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes)
Pick Grade: D
WHY, ERIC STAAL!?!? WHY!??! Yes, I know he's the hometown golden boy and the youngest All-Star ever in any professional sporting All-Star event, but seriously!??! Round 11?!? There was absolutely NO danger that this kid was going anywhere because—for crying out loud, he's a ROOKIE! You could have waited until round 18 for Skinner and in the mean time picked up some veterans with incredible skill, but instead you take your teammate, who more than likely will be struggling in his first All-Star appearance!
(Okay, rant over.)
There's no questioning Jeff Skinner is a fantastic rookie considering his 40 points (18 of them goals), but still, there was a sort-of unwritten rule I noticed at the Fantasy Draft this year: Nick Lidstrom didn't even consider touching the Carolina Hurricanes, but instead he left them alone for Staal to pick.
This proved to be a fantastic strategy for Lidstrom, as he was then able to use this round's pick to take Brad Richards, who is 10 times the player Skinner is, leaving Staal's team desperately lacking in several skill regions.
I know Staal really wanted to take Skinner to give his hometown fans some more to cheer for, but Staal easily could have left Skinner sitting for a few more rounds and he still would have been there. There was absolutely no reason to waste such an early pick on this basically locked-in player when some of the far more skilled up-for-grabs guys were still available.
Opponent's Pick: Brad Richards
Round 12: Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Pick Grade: A
A fantastic jack-of-all-trades defenseman, Kris Letang is just another example of Staal's bias of Eastern-Conference players, and this really annoyed me when Nick Lidstrom announced his pick of the exceptional Keith Yandle—the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL, who will no doubt have a whale of an All-Star Game.
Other than that, I can't really find any flaws with this one.
Letang's 34 assists and 41 points are sparkling numbers for a defenseman who plays the defensive side just as well as the offensive side.
One of the more comedic moments of the Fantasy Draft came as Letang, after receiving his Team Stall Jersey, walked up to join his teammates and take his seat—only to trip on the stairs and almost plant his face into the ground. Fast forward to the 0:30 mark of the video to see this humorous blunder. I guess sometimes it's true: hockey players are better on skates than they are on their own two feet...
Opponent's Pick: Keith Yandle
Round 13: Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
Pick Grade: A-
I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record that's beating a dead horse (I had to throw at least one terrible analogy into this article somewhere), but at this point it really became clear to me that this was basically becoming an East vs. West battle with Lidstrom relying heavily on Western Conference players and Staal picking almost exclusively from the East.
Claude Giroux is no slouch of a pick, though, as he's really matured into one of the most stellar players in the lineup of the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently lead the race for the President's Trophy.
A big headline that's coming out of this Fantasy Draft is that he will be opposing Danny Briere, his teammate from Philadelphia, who was picked up several rounds earlier by Nick Lidstrom. Briere has been to an All-Star Game before, but this is Giroux's first time, and that may have been the decisive logic behind Lidstrom's pick.
That being said, Staal must certainly be glad he was able to pick up one of the great talents from the Flyers at this point in the draft—a steal considering Giroux was still left at round 13.
Opponent's Pick: Brent Burns
Round 14: Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
Pick Grade: C-
Chock this grade up to poor strategy. Staal was forced to take the final defenseman left in the draft, and he was left with 20-year-old Erik Karlsson—unquestionably the worst defenseman in the draft field and the lone representative from the hapless Ottawa Senators at this year's All-Star Weekend.
His 20 assists are nothing to scoff at, showing he's got the ability to move the puck, and his hockey sense is setting up the Senators for goals. However, the Senators have virtually no blueline talent this year and as a result, they're being lit up night-in and night-out by opposing forwards.
Karlsson, at only 20 years old, may be the best of the bunch, but I'd hardly call him an All-Star Caliber player.
It was right about here when it became apparent taking Jeff Skinner so early on was a serious mistake. Should have snagged someone like Keith Yandle when you had the chance, Eric.
Opponent's Pick: Martin Havlat
Round 15: Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)
Pick Grade: A
With a whopping 25 goals (seventh in the NHL) and 51 points (ninth in the NHL), how did this guy fall all the way to round 15? He's leading the Anaheim Ducks in scoring and is putting in brilliant performances night after night. How could nobody have thought to snag this incredible talent in his second trip to the All-Star Weekend any earlier?
Oh yeah, I forgot...nobody pays any attention to the Anaheim Ducks or the entire Pacific Division at all for that matter. Silly me.
Perry, a teammate of Staal's on the gold-medal-winning Canadian team this past Winter Olympics, was described as having "a good set of mitts", and yeah, he certainly does.
Perry can compete well in a vast number of the Super Skills events and will thrive in the lax defense environment of the All-Star game, making him, in my eyes, an absolute steal and an excellent pick.
P.S.-Another bragging point for Ducks fans: both Ducks went in the draft before the lone Los Angeles King went. Yes, the smack talking never ends.
Opponent's Pick: Anze Kopitar
Round 16: Patrik Elias (New Jersey Devils)
Pick Grade: C-
I'm going to chock this pick up to that terrible Eastern-Conference bias again. Eric Staal opted for the veteran experience of Patrik Elias over the talents of Matt Duchene, Phil Kessel, and Paul Stastny, all players who I believe are currently playing better than Elias—a decent player on a Devils team that has been an Eastern-Conference atrocity this season.
It's a heartwarming story to see Elias back in the All-Star celebrations. He's officially the record holder for the longest amount of time between All-Star appearances in NHL History—his last appearance came back in the 2002 All-Star Game.
That being said, I don't think Staal should have passed on the Western talents still left (or the Eastern ones for that matter) in favor of picking up the now-aging veteran Elias.
Opponent's Pick: Matt Duchene
Round 17: David Backes (St. Louis Blues)
Pick Grade: B+
I think Staal made this pick purely because he didn't want to fight Backes, who was already threatening to drop the gloves with whatever captain didn't pick him. But that being said, Backes is actually a very good pick for such a late round.
Playing a game very much like the classic power forwards of the 90's and early 2000's, Backes is quietly having a decent year with 37 points on a struggling St. Louis team.
In addition to his grit and lack of fear to fight just about whoever (except maybe Chara...), Backes has a very good set of hands and can really cause a lot of damage if he's left alone or unchecked for even a split second.
He's got a blistering snap shot and some deadly accuracy, which, when those two combine, make him a massive threat when he posts up at the top of the slot.
Opponent's Pick: Loui Eriksson
Round 18: Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche)
Pick Grade: A
Well, it was down to the last two, and to be honest, two very good talents were still left (definitely not the two I thought would still be around at this point). So really, Staal could do no wrong in this pick, but I honestly think he took the better of the two players.
Stastny has become a staple in the Colorado lineup and is having another very good year, well ahead of pace to break the 20-goal plateau again.
Additionally, Stastny can compete in a number of the Super Skills events due to his excellent skills in a number of areas. Don't be surprised if Stastny can manage to pull off a fantastic game on Sunday and even possibly win one of his Super Skills events.
Opponent's Pick: Phil Kessel
Overall Grade: C-
I really can't give Staal a lot of credit for his work in selecting a team for the All-Star Weekend set in his team's home-building. I know he wanted to pick his brother and his teammates and guys he played with in Team Canada, but he wound up just spiraling into a pattern of Eastern-biased picks and silly decisions that put him far behind Lidstrom in the skill quantity department.
Honestly, I don't think there's a single category that Staal has the upper hand in, and while he drafted a team that the hometown crowd can cheer for, on paper at least, it looks like they're going to get a hardy beat-down this weekend.
Predicted winner: Team Lidstrom