SI straw poll: NHL All-Stars detail state of the league, head shots
The NHL's best players have convened to Raleigh, home of the Hurricanes
Players met with the NHL media for extensive sessions on Friday
The All-Stars understand today's game is built on speed and physical play
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Before Friday night's All-Star draft, SI.com polled some of the biggest names in the NHL about two burning questions regarding the state of the game.
With all the NHL has done, what more can the league due to drum up interest in hockey, short of a franchise relocation to Canada?
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings: "This [All-Star weekend] is a step in the right direction. Trying different things, having a draft where the players have an input on who you're playing with and just trying the new format, I think it's fun for the fans to see something like that, and I think the players enjoy it too."
Henrik Sedin, Canucks: "It's not easy. I mean, in these markets where hockey is not great, you can't just put a team there and expect it to be good. You have to have kids playing hockey growing up -- that's where you're going to get families [interested]. And that's tough to do. It's not something that's going to happen in the next year or five years."
Marc Staal, Rangers: "As far as weekends like this, with the new draft and things like tonight and trying new things and shaking things up, getting people's attention, all that kind of stuff helps grow the game. They just should keep on working hard doing things like that. In the U.S., obviously, [hockey] is not really high on the list of sports, but I think how you grow fans is by getting them to play. You have to play the game to really appreciate it, and getting kids to play and enjoy the game, that's a big part of it, too."
Mike Green, Capitals: "Well, [moving a franchise to Canada] would be one option. But I think [getting] more TV deals, where we can be on TV and expose our game around the country, is the biggest thing. I think once people see the game live and they're more aware of it, they'll fall in love with it."
Ryan Kesler, Canucks: "I think [the league] needs to get really creative with promo stuff. It's come a long way. The outdoor game obviously has had a big effect. The Olympics last year had a huge effect. We need to continue with it."
Shea Weber, Predators: "They're just starting to rebuild the game [post-lockout] in the U.S."
Paul Stastny, Avalanche: "I think the NHL has done a good job. The HBO's 24/7 was big. If you have a good product, people will show up. Sometimes it'll take a year or two to get the fans back in there. The Winter Classic does a great job. In the end, I think it's what you do on the ice. Beyond that, I think the NHL's doing everything it can to grow the sport."
Martin St. Louis, Lightning: "The approach the league is taking right now, to give our product a little seasoning without changing the recipe. I see the effort constantly. The outdoor games the last few years. The shootout. We're working with the same recipe. Just trying to season it with this All-Star format. There's no lack of trying. That kind of stuff doesn't happen in one or two years. There's a progression."
Cam Ward, Hurricanes: "I'd like [the league] to take another look at the shootouts. I think it would be good to go three-on-three if four-on-four doesn't break the tie. We've run the shootout and I'd like to see that change.... [As far as growing the game], look at what we've done here [in Raleigh]. I think the question is what can work, how hard you're willing to work to make it a success."
Are you in favor of abolishing all headshots from the game entirely?
Lidstrom: "I think the league is making strides, going in the right direction with the blindside hits and especially hits to the head. So I'm sure they're going to look even closer at that and see what they can do to eliminate or try and cut down on some of the headshots. At the end, yeah, I think [a rule against headshots] will happen. But then again, sometimes you're not trying to hit someone in the head, but when you're skating, your head is going to be down or your head is going to be there first, so it's a fine line. But I like the direction that the league is going with this."
Sedin: "You don't want to see guys getting injured. You don't want to see guys having concussions, but where do you draw the line? It's extremely tough. It's not easy to answer. [It'd be great] to have a game where no one goes after the head, but again, a lot of those hits are not done purposefully. It happens. It's a fast game, so what's the penalty going to be? Things like that, it's tough to know what to do about it."
Sharp: "I don't know how you can [get rid of head shots]. I mean, it's such a fast game and you want to keep the physical play in it. I know that I've been dinged a few times in the side of the head when I'm not looking, but that was accidental. You want to protect the players -- that's the main thing -- but at the same time, the question becomes how are you going to do that? I don't have a problem with the suspensions or the penalties that they've been giving out. But as for the actual hits to the head, it's going to happen all the time in the game."
Staal: "It's tough to say. You don't want to take hitting out of the game because I think that's a big part of hockey, the physical side of it. If anytime somebody touches somebody else's head, you get a penalty for it, I think that's going to take hitting completely out of the game. Obviously, we have to do our best as players not to put ourselves in positions to get hit like that or deliver a hit like that. I think it's more on us to protect ourselves."
Green: "Yeah, but there's a fine line. Whether it's intentional or not, that's where you determine suspensions or what not. But I mean, you're going to get hit, and you can't take that away from the game. I think that's why people love it is because of the aggression in the game and the passion, as long as guys aren't going out of their way to hurt each other."
Kesler: "Obviously, it's a concern. I think they're taking the right steps. It's a fast game, and guys are going to get hit inadvertently. The only way to take it out is to take hitting out of the game, and you don't want that. It's something we definitely need to look at. I don't want to stand up here and say we definitely need to abolish head shots. When you get top guys -- really anybody -- with a serous injury, it can ruin lives."
St. Louis: "I guess I could compare it if I go hit somebody sometimes and I catch their knee cause I'm small. Sometimes [head shots] are the player-with-the-puck's fault. His head's down. If the first point of contact is the head, there's no room for that.... I think we took tremendous strides in the right direction, but it still has to fall on the players. Vulnerable guy, there's got to be a respect factor. I think we're seeing a progression from years past. If we stay strong on every head shot being reviewed for suspension, I think you'll see you're going to get more respect from the players.... Obviously, missing [Crosby] here is big. He's the face of the league, no doubt ... But there's been some other players, like Marc Savard. I know Sidney Crosby is an isolated case because he is who he is for the league, but at the same time, there's tons of hits reviewed every week. The more we see it, the more we hear about it, the more we hear of the consequences, the more we can identify the good hits and the bad hits, you're going to see more and more guys slowing down and showing respect for each other."
Weber: "It's a danger in the game. You see how many concussions there are. Something you want to see leave the game, and eventually I think it will. Definitely the goal is to get rid of all head shots. They put [Rule 48] in for a reason, trying to stop head shots, and it's going to have to change sooner or later."
Stastny: "I think they've done a good job [with Rule 48]. I think they can expand on it. I think it's hard to completely change one thing from one year to another. It has to be pushed in from year to year. Whether it's a suspension or a fine, I think you can bump up a fine like they do in the NFL."
Daniel Brière, Flyers: "We're making progress with [head shots]. I like what I'm seeing there. Finally we're addressing the problem, so I'm really happy with that. But it's like anything else. There's always room for improvement. I'm sure they're studying to see how we can improve it and protect the guys. With guys like Crosby and Savard out, Crosby is a big piece. Obviously he's the face of the NHL."
Dustin Byfuglien, Thrashers: "I think what they've done is enough. The speed of the game is so fast the guys need to be able to get to the puck. Things happen. If you want to take the threat of headshots out of the game, you need to take the speed out of the game, and I don't think people want that."
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks: "It's important, obviously to look after guys, but we know how fast the game moves. People adjust to the speed, with passing, goaltending, and guys have to get used to it so players can still hit responsibly."