It's time for Phil Kessel to hand over the crown. Fortunately, he gets to keep the car.
The successor to Kessel in the role of Mr. Irrelevant will be revealed Thursday night in the NHL's second all-star draft near Ottawa. While the Toronto Maple Leafs winger could conceivably be left standing until the end again, it's unlikely to happen given his strong season and the fact teammate Joffrey Lupul is helping Zdeno Chara pick one of the teams.
With Daniel Alfredsson of the hometown Ottawa Senators selecting the other, Lupul's inclusion in the event was a welcome development for Kessel and the Leafs.
"I think the most relieved guy in the room right now would be Phil Kessel," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said recently. "In the sense that Chara was with the Bruins and they seem to give Phil a hard time. And Danny Alfredsson, that's out of our biggest rivals.
"I think Phil was worrying that they might try to get together and pass him over again. (Lupul) will prevent that from happening."
Assuming that is the case, there are only 21 players in the pool that can be selected last. Draft rules dictate that it must be a forward — all of the goalies must be selected by Round 10 while the defencemen have to be picked by Round 15 — and Alfredsson, Lupul and Kessel (it seems) enter with immunity.
Alfredsson has hinted that one of the young players could be left waiting around until the end and there are no shortage of options if that ends up being the case. Tyler Seguin, Jordan Eberle, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Logan Couture and James Neal are among the forwards making their first appearance in an all-star game.
Each of them is aware of what could happen.
"The car wouldn't be bad," said Tavares.
To soften the blow, the last man standing is awarded $20,000 for charity and a new vehicle. Kessel still owns the Honda CR-Z hybrid he "won" in Raleigh, N.C., last year while the money he received was split equally among four charitable causes.
The Leafs forward repeatedly claimed not to have minded being picked last at the all-star draft, but he clearly won't miss the questions and extra attention that came with the role.
Interestingly, the players were overwhelming in favour keeping a format that would see one player singled out at the end. They were presented with the option of having it come down to a small group instead.
Unlike a traditional draft, there isn't much attention paid to the first pick.
Alfredsson has already said he'll take Senators teammate Erik Karlsson with his first selection — and there's a 50-50 chance that it'll be No. 1 overall since the draft order is decided by a coin flip at the outset.
Chara, meanwhile, has been slightly more coy about his intentions. He and Lupul exchanged text messages earlier this week and have tried to map out a strategy.
Neither wanted to reveal much of what was said, but Lupul made no secret of the fact he'll be looking out for Kessel.
"I would like to try (to pick him first), but I'm not the boss there," said Lupul. "Chara can be an intimidating guy too, so I think we'll probably take his guy first. Obviously, I'm going to want to try and take Phil and (Leafs captain) Dion (Phaneuf) if we can work that."
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