The NHL is introducing a new All-Star format that no other professional sports league has ever tried: a Fantasy Draft.

Basically, fans will be given ballots with 100 players on it and will select six All-Stars by position. These selections will not have anything to do with what conference the players are in. The top three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie will be named All-Stars.

The next 36 players will be chosen by the NHL Hockey Operations Department to give us 42 All-Stars. Those players selected will vote for respective team captains, who will then conduct a fantasy draft of the remaining players. (Click here to vote.)

Most fans’ reactions to first hearing about the All-Star changes usually involve expletives and other terms of shock. But after thinking about it more critically, I think the NHL may be on to something.

Among the top four major sports leagues in the country, the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA, the NHL has the worst television ratings for its All-Star games. Since the games moved to Versus in 2007, TV ratings have averaged between 0.7 and 0.8. Before the network move and the Lockout in 2005, the games averaged between a 1.7 and 1.8 rating. Even this is desperately low compared to the NBA’s, NFL’s and MLB’s ratings.

The NFL Pro-Bowl received a 7.9 overnight rating last year, despite not meaning much to fans or the game. The NFL has been considering changes to its format when it comes to having the game before or after the Super Bowl. They tried having it the week before for the first time last year and they saw a 39 percent increase in their rating. However, none of the players who made it to the Super Bowl played in the Pro-Bowl. In many cases, this included the game’s best players and definitely affected the level of the game.

Even though the Pro-Bowl is one of fans’ favorite games to complain about, it still trounces the NHL’s TV rating. The MLB also shook up its All-Star format when it decided to award home-field advantage during the World Series to the winner of the All-Star game. The change did not seem to affect its TV rating. However, despite a record low rating last year with 7.5, the MLB still trumps the NHL when it comes to viewers. The NBA also experienced a historical low last year with a TV rating of 4.6, but had its highest ratings the year before. This was most likely due to the Olympics being run at the same time. Despite these lows, these sports still produce a much higher TV rating than the NHL for its All-Star game.

That’s where the Fantasy Draft format comes into play. The NHL hopes to draw more fans and get people excited about the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in a long time.

With designated captains picking the teams themselves, players are even getting more excited about the game. The intensity level will definitely be up for this game as the players have a better reason to be competitive on the ice for the exhibition match.

“The goal of the All-Star format change was designed to make the game more fun for everyone involved. By giving the players more input on team selection, as well as Skills Competition match-ups, we feel the 2011 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft will inject more excitement and intrigue into all the events surrounding All-Star weekend.” Brendan Shanahan, Vice President Hockey and Business Development for the NHL

A coin flip will decide the first pick and from there the draft will rotate like a recess kickball game. They will choose between the NHL’s 36 picks and then will select 12 rookies to fill out the rosters. The captains also designate what rookies will take part in each skills challenge. These still include: Fastest Skater, Breakaway Challenge, Accuracy Shooting, Skills Challenge Relay, Hardest Shot and the Elimination Shoot Out.

Hosted for the first time by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Fantasy Draft will take place Friday, Jan. 28, to commence All-Star Weekend. Team names have not yet been revealed for the All-Star Game.

Sports New NHL All-Star Game Format Uses Fantasy Draft