TORONTO – After the 2023 NHL All-Star talent show, which was confusing, disjointed and went poorly in the arena and on television, Gary Bettman asked Connor McDavid for his thoughts.
The long-serving commissioner wanted to know what the current MVP, face of the league, Edmonton captain and the man widely regarded as the best hockey player in the world thought of the annual event. In a few conversations later with McDavid and other stars, this All-Star Weekend offers the return of some past traditions in hopes of adding some fun.
The popular player draft returns on Thursday night, with captains McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon and brothers Quinn and Jack Hughes selecting their teams for the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday. Friday night’s skills competition features a new format with just 12 players participating and focuses on old-school events like hardest shot and fastest skater.
“I think the new format is great,” said Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders. “(It’s) a pretty good indication that the NHL is trying to be more creative and keep it fun.”
Oh, and the winner will receive a million dollars.
“I’m fighting for a million dollars, so I can’t complain,” said Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson, who decided to enter with a fan vote. “I think it should motivate everyone. I think everyone jokes about it, but I don’t think anyone would say no to it. I think it would be fun to see guys not just do one thing. “You’re making guys 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 JT Miller will compete in four of the first six events. These are fastest skater, hardest shot, accurate shot, one-timers, passing and stick handling.
NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said its goal is to be a test of a real hockey player. It’s also designed to move quickly and eliminate some of the quirks of last year, when events were fragmented and difficult to follow.
“We’ve heard comments about not being sure what’s going on,” Mayer said. “I think what we do is simplified things. “The activities are short, disposable and easy to follow.”
This emerges from feedback from McDavid and others. Mayer said McDavid giving his stamp of approval to some ideas was the “first line of acceptance” and paved the way for the spectacle the NHL would put on.
“I think it’s a good thing that the league is trying to develop these events,” Carolina’s Sebastian Aho said. “I hope the 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 captaining the stars. And Thursday night featured a 3-on-3 game with players from the new Women’s Professional Hockey League on hand to give the sport more exposure on a big stage.