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Dear Brendan Shanahan: Get 4th-line characters into All-Star Weekend

[User Note: Our on-going weekend All-Star Game discussion thread is here. WebBard's weekly Bridgeport/prospect report is here.]

As I watched the NHL All-Star Draft, I gradually began to feel let down. Not in a complete failure way, but much like in baseball when you're down 1, bottom of the 9th, runners on 1st and 3rd, and your guy hits a double, but the winning run is thrown out at the plate. You may still win it, but oh man that was close, and the wind is out of your sails a bit...(let's not give anything up in the top of the 10th...please!)

While the draft had some moments (like Ovechkin getting overly amped at Kessel being picked last {or left over}, and the Sedin separation), it still had much of the cookie-cutter, antiseptic drivel that has driven fans from intermission interviews and post game pressers for years. And the emcee, poor choice...let's break Thorne and Clement out of mothballs for this! 

This may not be a popular idea, but some of the NHL 4th line tough guys are the funniest, most engaging and genuine people in the game. Why not open All-Star Weekend up to these guys? Many are lauded for their charitable works, "locker room presence," "keeping the room light," "firing the team up," and [enter any random cliche soundbite from the top two lines here]. This is evidenced by the quips of guys like Paul Bissonette of the Phoenix Coyotes and Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins.


My proposal is the "4th Line Challenge." Allow fans to vote in the top 10 4th liners throughout the league from a pre-determined pool. Have captains draft the 4th liners to each side (like with the rookies) and have them participate in the skills competition and a mini-game.

Has anyone ever watched a tough-guy score a goal? (Maybe not often.) There is no greater feeling of accomplishment and helping the team win than when these guys score a goal. Additional skills competitions can be created for them like punching power, speed bag and body check force, but let's still allow them to showcase that they do still have some incredible hockey skills that none of us possess by participating in the fastest skater, agility drills, shootout, and shot accuracy competitions.

Let the 4th Liners Shine

During the mini-game, give them three 5 minute periods to show that they can pass, shoot and skate better than most hockey players in the world, but also allow them to hit (Novel, right?!). Mic them up so we can see the respect they have for each other, how agitating they can be, and their enthusiasm just to be there. Give them a little bonus for participating. Give them cameras to film things outside of the game itself. Give their participating teams a waiver exemption or cap relief if they happen to get hurt.

And mostly, develop a point system that allows them to factor into the outcome of the weekend. If these guys are doing such a thankless job and are as necessary to the game as the NHL proclaims they are, throw 'em a bone and stop making them the NHL's dirty little secret on All-Star weekend. Who knows what would happen, but I bet they wouldn't be the ones trying to opt out, and they might end up being more entertaining than the big game itself.