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NHL All-Star Weekend has a new look, leaning into some old ideas after input from Connor McDavid

TORONTO — In the aftermath of the 2023 NHL All-Star skills competition that was confusing, disjointed and went off poorly in the arena and on television, Gary Bettman asked Connor McDavid for his thoughts.

The long-serving commissioner wanted to know what the reigning MVP, face of the league, Edmonton captain and the man widely considered the best hockey player in the world thought the annual event. Several conversations with McDavid and other stars later, this All-Star Weekend features the return of some past traditions with the hope of putting some fun back into it.

Back is the popular player draft, which took place Thursday night with captains McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and brothers Quinn and Jack Hughes picking their teams for the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament Saturday. The skills competition Friday night has a new format with just 12 players participating and a focus on old-school events like hardest shot and fastest skater.

“I think the new format’s cool,” Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders said. “(It’s) a pretty good indication that the NHL’s trying to get more creative and keep it fun.”

Oh, and the winner gets a million bucks.

“Battling for a million dollars, so I can’t complain,” said Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, who was voted by fans to take part. “It should motivate everyone, I think. I guess everyone jokes about it, but I don’t think anyone would say no to it. I think it will be fun to see guys doing not only one thing. You get guys to do more than one thing, so I’m excited.”

McDavid, Matthews, MacKinnon, Barzal, Toronto’s William Nylander, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Colorado’s Cale Makar, Boston’s David Pastrnak, and Vancouver’s Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller will each compete in four of the first six events. Those are fastest skater, hardest shot, accuracy shooting, one-timers, passing and stick-handling.

NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said the goal is to be the test of a true hockey player. It’s also designed to go quickly and remove some of the weirdness of last year, when events were split up and it was hard to follow.

“We’ve heard comments that we weren’t sure what was going on,” Mayer said. “I think what we’ve done is simplified things. The events are short, they’re disposable, they’re easy to follow.”

That comes out of the feedback from McDavid and others. Mayer said McDavid giving his stamp of approval to some of the ideas was the “first line of acceptance” and paved the way for the show the NHL is putting on.

“I think it’s a good thing the league tries to improve these events,” Carolina’s Sebastian Aho said. “Hopefully fans will love it.”

This All-Star Weekend has a Canadian flair, with homegrown singers Justin Bieber, Michael Bublé and Tate McRae and actor Will Arnett serving as celebrity captains. And Thursday night included a 3-on-3 game with players from the new Professional Women’s Hockey League on hand to give the sport more exposure on a big stage.

Stephen Whyno , 2024-02-02 00:21:14

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