After featuring a dunk tank in South Florida, and an accuracy contest within the spray of the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, the NHL elected to revamp its All-Star skills competition for the 2024 edition.
The league worked with Connor McDavid to bring the skills contest back to its roots as a test of actual on-ice hockey skills, resulting in a new grand-prix-style format with 12 skaters competing for a $1 million prize.
David Pastrnak, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Leon Draisaitl, McDavid, Mathew Barzal, Nikita Kucherov, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller are the superstars competing in the contest, which features fastest skater, hardest shot, stickhandling, one-timers, passing and accuracy shooting. The top eight from the first six events will go one-on-one with the goalie of their choice in the shootout, and the top six after that round will complete the on-ice obstacle course to seal the victory.
Which is our favorite new event? What events should be added in the future? And who will win the $1 million prize this year?
What is your favorite new event in the skills contest?
Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: It’s the $1 million prize. That’s not a new event, but that is the grand prize, which is different. Back in the day, we saw players get cars and trucks. But to get $1 million for winning the skills contest? In addition to whatever performance bonuses they get just for making the All-Star team? That’s the real winner.
Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: While I’m a big fan of how this year’s entire skills competition is laid out altogether, the concluding NHL obstacle course is going to be a must-view. Watch the competition level bust through the roof when only six players are pitted against one another for a cool million. Straw-poll talk, but some hockey fans in my personal circle — many of whom have dismissed all matters All-Star in the past — are actively looking forward to this event in particular, which speaks volumes.
Arda Öcal, NHL broadcaster: Give me the one-on-one shootout all day! I love that each player gets to choose which goalie they will shoot against. I want to see friends become enemies, lifelong grudges formed. I want these moments referenced in future news conferences. I want Owen Nolan-esque finger points to the goalie, I want goalies punching the air and winking at players after a save. Turn up the petty trolling and theatrics for this one.
Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: I love how they’ve set up the one-on-one challenge! Maybe it’s just that I adore a good mind game — and that’s exactly what happens when you let the shooter pick which goalie he wants to go against. Because you know that the goaltender will be wondering, ‘Why me?’ Does this guy think he has my number?! And that just heightens the competitiveness of their event and will be really fun to watch. Especially when we get to dissect afterward who chose poorly.
Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: The grand finale: The obstacle course, which will bring together the top six players for a series of skill tests. It seems like a final exam, the culmination of everything the players have «learned» in the previous seven events. It’s like the eliminator back in the «American Gladiator» days. It’s the final boss for our surviving skate-testants. Bring it.
What new event would you pitch for the next All-Star skills grand prix?
Clark: Either have forwards and defensemen wear goaltending gear to see how they can stop shots — or if they could stop them at all. Or, and we’ve seen this joke on social media, have a regular fan who thinks they can do all of this go against actual NHL All-Stars.
Matiash: I’d like to see organizers include one physical test, recorded ahead of time, specific to the host city. For instance, in Toronto, a timed race up the stairs of the CN Tower. Not all 1,776 steps, mind you — we can’t imagine there would be much enthusiasm for such a task from the participants — but the final 100 or so. This is a way of showcasing a specific municipal landmark, while also serving as a legitimate athletic challenge.
Öcal: Let me pivot slightly for my answer: I want a player from the home city to have input every All-Star Game. If this will be the skills competition format moving forward, let that player curate the competition that happens during one of the rounds. I love the idea of stars being creative as they devise new events for their peers to try every year.
Shilton: Let’s see a totally surprise event. And by that, I mean there is a one secret skills contest no one finds out about ahead of time but the players themselves get to vote on who will participate in it — could be a goalie, forward or defenseman. Now, I don’t know exactly what this mystery event would entail, but it would be something a little more goofy, a little more fun and just the added factor of it not being known beforehand would be great! I’d love to see how players would handle a challenge like that.
Wyshynski: I appreciate that Connor McDavid has helped recalibrate the skills competition back to its hockey-centric roots after last year’s hockey golf and beachfront dunk tanks. If that’s what the players want, more power to them, because we want them engaged and entertaining.
But I still think there’s room for the goofy, out-of-their-element events we’ve seen in recent years. So does Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer who helped created a bunch of them. My hope for the skills competition: That we get 12 players competing for the million dollars by dangling and shooting pucks, while players who aren’t competing have a chance to do the goofball pre-taped events, which is a concept Mayer floated to me recently.
Who wins the $1 million prize as the skills champion?
Clark: Sebastian Aho. Anyone who has watched him over the years knows he’s one of the most well-rounded forwards in the game. Could that translate into him finding success as the skills champion?
Matiash: Haven’t we all watched Nathan MacKinnon play recently? He has been next level. And there’s no chance the current Hart Trophy front-runner dims that fierce competitive switch, even for a so-labeled «fun» event. Not with a million banknotes on the line.
Öcal: Auston Matthews will be slightly in the lead, but at the last second, all the Hughes brothers (including injured Jack and a surprise appearance by Luke) will form together like the Triforce and claim victory for Quinn via some sort of interference against their fellow American star.
Shilton: Giving this one to the (sort of?) hometown player, Auston Matthews. You just know he’s going to be even more hyped to perform given it’s Toronto, he is a face/captain of the event and he has Justin Bieber and his Maple Leafs teammates around. It’s all aligning for a massive Matthews weekend.
Wyshynski: Are you serious? Let me ask you this: How well would you do on a test if you wrote the questions? Connor McDavid helped the NHL rethink the All-Star skills competition. I don’t think he’d create an event that didn’t cater to his strengths. It’s a million dollars. My dude’s got a wedding to pay for this summer, after all.