Why the revamped All-Star skills competition format is game-changing for the NHL

Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
6 months ago
Given the lack of stakes, and often the lack of action, you can be forgiven if you’ve largely ignored the National Hockey League’s All-Star festivities in the past. While sometimes the weekend has produced some wacky fun, it’s largely been an event designed to gather the league’s stars for marketing opportunities rather than ramp up competition.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced plans to completely revamp the annual skills competition… and if the changes they’ve made are any indication, they might have figured out a way to make All-Star Weekend a lot more fun to watch.
By now you’re probably familiar with how the All-Star Game works. We’ll use the 2023 format to provide the broad strokes. 44 players were selected and split into four teams by division (11 players apiece), with the league working to have every team in the league represented. Players are selected to participate through excellence, though they need to find a positional balance so there are often trade-offs made. The selected teams play in a three-on-three tournament on the Saturday.
The good news is that this year, they’ve brought back the player draft. Four captains will be selected (the league’s announcement didn’t specify how), and on the Thursday of All-Star Weekend there will be a televised draft where those captains select players for brand-new teams. (They did this format in the past and it was wacky fun, though there was likely some concern expressed about how many beverages players consumed during the event.) Somebody will be selected last.
There’s also a PWHL three-on-three showcase set for the Thursday night, providing the top players in women’s hockey’s first unified national league with a chance to show off their talents.
The new All-Star skills competition for the Friday night format continues the fun changes. In years past, the participants were a smattering of seemingly random players doing random events, and there wasn’t much of a cohesive theme or story to it. This year, 12 All-Stars will be selected to participate in the competition – the league’s announcement didn’t specify how they’ll be chosen – and the winner gets $1 million (US).
Each participating player will take part in four of the following six events, earning points for how they finish – five points for first place, four for second, and so on.
  1. Fastest skater
  2. Hardest shot
  3. Stick-handling
  4. One-timers
  5. Passing challenge
  6. Accuracy shooting
After those six events, the eight players with the most points will advance to the shootout competition, where the shooters can select which goaltender they’d like to face.
The top six players after the shootout move onto the obstacle course, with the points doubled – 10 points for first place, eight points for second, and so on. The player that finishes with the most points after all eight events wins the competition and earns a cool million bucks.
Somebody, by definition, will finish last.
Professional athletes are some of the most competitive human beings on the planet. And their personalities often bubble to the surface during the heat of competition. If the hope is that All-Star Weekend encourages the league’s best stars to showcase what makes them so compelling, the changes to the weekend announced so far – notably the return of the draft and the revamp of the skills competition – could go a long way towards finally accomplishing that.
The NHL’s All-Star Weekend runs Feb. 1-3, 2024 in Toronto.

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