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All-Star wrinkle adds drama

NHL ‘player draft’ should be good TV

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By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / January 28, 2011

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With the NHL All-Star Game two days away, it would be fair to presume that Mike Emrick would be spending a few extra shifts studying up on the strengths and weaknesses of the rosters.

In any previous season, that’s exactly what the respected play-by-play voice of Versus and NBC’s NHL telecasts would be doing.

But this year? No such option. Like the rest of us, Emrick is left to anticipate the NHL’s latest clever foray into nostalgia, one that also includes a hint of what makes fantasy sports so appealing:

He’s waiting to see the captains choose up sides, as if they were playing the most star-studded pond hockey game imaginable.

The idea, a brainchild of former All-Star and current NHL vice president of hockey and business development Brendan Shanahan, is called the All-Star Fantasy Draft. It begins tonight at 8, serving as the opening act to the Versus network’s coverage of NHL All-Star Weekend. The SuperSkills competition will air tomorrow at 7 p.m., with the puck dropping for the All-Star Game at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Two captains — Eric Staal of the host Hurricanes and Red Wings veteran defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom — will play general manager, choosing up squads of three goalies, six defensemen, and 12 forwards. Emrick, along with analyst Eddie Olczyk, will host the event, and he’s approaching it with his usual candor and enthusiasm.

“[The All-Star Game] needed something else,’’ said Emrick, who also calls New Jersey Devils games for MSG Plus. “And I think this is exactly it.

“Imagine how fun it will be as it’s all unfolding. Here we are with our little lists out, including people sitting in the armchairs Friday night, striking guys off the list once they get chosen.

“And who knows? In future years, there might be the possibility of trades, and that would make it even more interesting as time passes. People are going to be watching to see who chooses whom and at what time.’’

Emrick’s stature in the game doesn’t deter him from acknowledging his fandom. And like hockey nuts everywhere, he already has a few hypotheticals in mind for the draft.

“For instance,’’ said Emrick, “if Niklas Lidstrom gets to choose first, having played with the Sedins [twin brothers Henrik and Daniel of the Canucks] and won medals with them for Sweden in the Olympics, if he picks Daniel, does Staal bypass Steve Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin just for the purpose of taking Henrik and separating those two? I don’t think so.

“I think he’s probably going to take one of those two guys. That’s my guess. But isn’t it fun to think about?’’

Emrick said calling the All-Star Game is more challenging than a regular-season contest because of the wide-open offense and lack of physical play.

“We wind up carrying on a little bit more of a conversation than we do describing each play,’’ Emrick said.

“It’s funny, now that I think about it, one of the best goaltending performances, if not the best, was Tim Thomas in Montreal [in 2009, when the Bruin stopped 19 of 22 shots]. He just fought like a goaltender doesn’t normally fight.

“I’m glad he’s going this year. Many of them go in with the concession of, ‘I hope this isn’t embarrassing.’ He doesn’t take that approach. It’s admirable.’’

The same could be said for Emrick. He will complete a hat trick of sorts, calling or hosting all three events, the most daunting of which is actually the skills competition.

“There’s a lot to prepare,’’ he said. “I have in front of me right now three pages of how the skills are going to go. They do change things from year to year, trying to make it better.’’

Part of Emrick’s appeal as a broadcaster is his willingness to let a moment speak for itself, something he expects to do during the skills challenge.

“I think the exciting things to call are the ones where you can set it up and let the crowd tell you how it went,’’ Emrick said. “For example, the slap-shooting competition, when Z-Man [Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara] is stepping up there and there could be history in the making.

“I also had a chance to call some of Ray Bourque’s target breaks in his day and some of Mark Messier’s target breaks, and those are fun, too, not because of what you say but because of what you don’t say and what the crowd says.’’

Batter up Any reason to talk baseball this time of year is a good one, and NESN and the Red Sox apparently share the same sentiment. The team and the network will host 2011 Red Sox Town Hall, a live and interactive Q&A session with select fans Monday at 7 p.m. at WGBH’s Calderwood Studio, and it will air in its entirety beginning at 9 p.m. The session will be hosted by NESN’s Tom Caron and Heidi Watney, and the panel will include Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Theo Epstein, and Terry Francona. The audience is by invitation only . . . The holidays proved happy ones for WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan’’ program, which earned a 9.4 share among men 25-54 on its AM flagship station alone, according to Arbitron, good for No. 1 in morning drive in the period from Dec. 8-Jan. 4. The share rises to 9.7 when the numbers its Providence-based FM station receives in the Boston market are factored in. The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich’’ was second in the time slot with an 8.4.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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