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


TORONTO (AP) — 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 was 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 previous All-Star competitions were going a little gimmicky, a little out there,” McDavid said. “But I’m excited that it’s going to be normal skills that we would use on the ice. That’s ultimately what we want is to come here and show off our skills and put on a good show for the fans.”

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, Toronto’s William Nylander, Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Colorado’s Cale Makar, Boston’s David Pastrnak, Vancouver’s Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller, and the New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal 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.

Unsurprisingly, McDavid did not want to take credit for changing or saving the skills competition, downplaying his role as one of the players who had a couple of conversations on the topic. But it was clearly something he cares about, and he has since heard from friends who are excited to see how it turns out.

“I hope the players like it,” McDavid said. “I hope the players can have some fun with it and make it competitive.”

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.


AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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