DALLAS — The last time the NHL gathered for an All-Star game, in 2004, Sidney Crosby was 16 and playing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Alexander Ovechkin was 18 and toiling for Moscow Dynamo in Russia.
The 2005 game was canceled because of the labor dispute that wiped out the season, and no game was held last year in advance of the Turin Olympics. This year's game, to be played Wednesday at American Airlines Center, will be the first major showcase for Pittsburgh's Crosby and Washington's Ovechkin, two of the 20 first-timers representing the East and West.
"We're young and we just have fun," Ovechkin said Monday. "Right now we're here in the All-Star game and it's unbelievable, I think."
Ovechkin, second in goal-scoring with 29, and Crosby, the scoring leader with 72 points, are gifts from heaven for a league with image problems.
Its bold move to eliminate obstruction and increase scoring last season was a success, but scoring and attendance have slipped and TV ratings remain low.
Crosby and Ovechkin are considered leaders of the next generation, singular talents who can please loyal fans with their skills and win new attention with their vibrant personalities.
"I think we have a strong group of players. We're able to show what the league's capable of and bring interest," said Crosby, the headliner at a news conference that unveiled the sleek uniforms the All-Stars will wear on Wednesday and the league will adopt next season.
"We all love to play. We want to see other people have that same experience when they see the games."
Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle, poised for his All-Star coaching debut behind the West bench, agreed that entertaining is more important than winning.
"I think it's important for us as coaches to try to put the people together to showcase the skills that are here," he said.
His only strategy session with his assistant, Barry Trotz, was brief. "He told me to wear my best suit and I said I didn't have one," Carlyle said.
Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, a first-time All-Star, was thrilled at being chosen for the West team. "I feel very good. I appreciate every minute here," he said.
"It's a big gift for the players. It's a gift for me."
The thrill hasn't gotten old for Ducks winger Teemu Selanne, who will play in his 10th All-Star game at age 36.
"As you get older, you appreciate these opportunities," said Selanne, who shares the league goal-scoring lead with 30. "This is more special."
Kings center Anze Kopitar, second in rookie scoring, will play in today's Young Stars game alongside Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf.
Also today, the Board of Governors is expected to discuss reconfiguring the schedule.
A likely scenario would cut divisional games from eight to six and revert to a format that ensures each team plays every other team.
A federal judge in Illinois dismissed a lawsuit filed by dissident members of the NHL Players' Assn., who contended the election of Ted Saskin as executive director was improperly conducted.