The NHL is going back to a player draft and adding a 3-on-3 women’s game as part of an expanded NHL all-star weekend.
The league announced Monday its showcase set for early February in Toronto will include Thursday events in addition to Friday’s skills competition and Saturday’s all-star tournament at Scotiabank Arena.
The televised “All-Star Thursday” lineup will see team captains – accompanied by celebrity captains – select players to fill out four rosters, a game featuring members of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, a tribute to the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs and the announcement of the NHL Alumni Man of the Year.
The league used a player draft at the all-star game for a two-team format in 2011, 2012 and 2015 before going to a division-based setup in 2016.
The event was cancelled in 2013 due to the lockout, while the game wasn’t held in 2014 because of the Olympics.
Fan voting for 12 player spots at the NHL’s all-star weekend, which is set to run Feb. 1-3, will open in January. The league will decide on the rest of the invitees.
NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said going back to hockey’s biggest market was the right time to add more events.
“We had to make it bigger and better,” he said. “We always had thoughts about doing other events. We just started talking about it more and more and we’re like, ‘We can’t fit this into our current schedule of events – we’ve got to add another day.”’
Past player drafts included memorable moments, including Phil Kessel winning a car after being picked last in 2012. Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, lobbied to be taken with the final selection in 2015 in hopes of scoring some new wheels before hearing his name called with three players left on the board.
“Really cool opportunity to see the player personalities,” Mayer, the executive producer of the NHL’s all-star weekend, said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “There’s also the dynamic of why are they choosing a player? Is it a past teammate? Is it a current teammate? Are these guys friends? Did these guys grow up together? Is it U.S.A. versus Canada?
“A million different ways you could go.”
Mayer envisioned a scenario where one of the captains asks the Toronto crowd which player to pick – Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, for example – based on fan reaction.
“The banter is going to be outstanding,” he said.
Mayer, who produced the previous all-star player drafts before joining the NHL, didn’t know why the format was shuttered.
“Other leagues have done it in the interim,” he said. “The NBA did it, NFL did it for the Pro Bowl. We watched that and we were always like, ‘We were first.”’
Mayer also said giving the new PWHL a prime-time spot was important to the NHL.
The league includes teams in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and the New York City area. Training camps are currently under way ahead of the PWHL’s debut in the new year.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in September his circuit wanted to be “helpful” to the league as it looks to find a footing in the North American sports landscape.
Women’s players have been on the ice at past NHL all-star skills competitions, including a 3-on-3 game in 2020 in St. Louis.
“One of the things that they’ve always expressed an interest in doing is having some of their marquee events around our signature events,” Mayer said. “It gives our fans the ability to see these incredible women’s players.”
Last year’s skills competition in Florida featured events on both a golf course and at the beach. Mayer wouldn’t divulge what fans can expect in Toronto, but did say everything will be indoors.
The NHL is also planning to honour the ‘67 Leafs – the last time the franchise hoisted the Cup.
“What a way to kick off the weekend,” Mayer said. “To have the living members of the team all in attendance, every one of them, and to be able to do this incredible moment.”
Maple Leaf Gardens hosted the first all-star game in 1934 as a benefit fundraiser for Toronto forward Ace Bailey, who had suffered a career-ending injury.
The NHL’s first official all-star game was held in the same building 13 years later featuring the Cup-winning Leafs.
The 2024 event will mark the ninth time Toronto has hosted host NHL all-star activities, and the first since 2000. Tickets go on sale Dec. 5.
“We’re trying to figure out from a events standpoint when we’re going to rehearse things, and when we’re going to do some things that we typically would do on that Thursday,” Mayer said. “But I do think adding another night to the weekend just makes it feel bigger.
“It’s just going to be a great event.”