Skills competition during NHL’s all-star weekend will also have new look

The NHL’s skills competition is also getting a different look for the upcoming all-star weekend.

A new event has been added and a couple old standbys have been tweaked for the Jan. 29 skills competition at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

The biggest wrinkle will see team captains Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom decide which players participate in each event. Since the all-star draft is being held the night before, players won’t have much time to prepare for their appearance in the skills competition.

NHL Players’ Association divisional player representative Steve Webb has been in contact with each of the all-stars and a few have noted the quick turnaround.

“Usually when you have your teams drawn up there, a couple weeks out you know you’re taking the hardest shot or you know you’re doing the shot accuracy,” said Webb. “Guys would start practising. Now what will they do?

“You probably have an idea but you really don’t know until the captain decides where you go now.”

There are a few safe bets. Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is the reigning two-time champion of the breakaway challenge while Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara has won the last three hardest shot competitions, setting a record by hitting 105.4 miles per hour in Montreal two years ago.

It doesn’t matter whether they end up on Team Lidstrom or Team Staal—you can count on them defending their titles.

Here’s a closer look at each of the events in the order they will be held:

—Fastest skater: Six players from each team (one rookie and five all-stars) participate in individual head-to-head races. The fastest from each team then face one another in a final race. When this event was held in 2009, players raced against the clock rather than each other.

—Breakaway challenge: Ovechkin should be favoured once again in an event where three players from each team (one rookie and two all-stars) take four shootout attempts with no limits. In fact, creativity is encouraged. Fans vote on the winner.

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—Accuracy shooting: This will feature a different format than in the past. Six players (one rookie and five all-stars) from each team will engage in head-to-head matchups, trying to knock out targets in the four corners of the goal as fast as possible. The quickest to do it from each team will then square off in a final match.

—Skills relay challenge: A brand new event that features 16 players from each team (two rookies and 14 all-stars). The all-around competition will involve one-timers, passing, puck control, stick-handling and accuracy shooting in four different relay events.

—Hardest shot: Six players from each team (one rookie and five all-stars) go head-to-head and have their shots measured in miles per hour. The hardest shooters from each team then contest a final match.

—Elimination shootout: Every skater takes an attempt, with goalies rotating every three shots, in a survivor-style competition. Those that score continue on to subsequent rounds until only one winner remains.

There should be some friendly competition. The skills competition pits Team Lidstrom against Team Staal—the events were all stand-alone in 2009—and Webb figures it will play into the decision-making of the captains when they are selecting players during the draft.

“It’s not going to be just about the game,” said Webb. “It’s going to be the overall weekend. The head-to-head matchups in the skating, the head-to-head matchups in the shoot accuracy and team play in the shootouts.

“Who’s going to line up where? There’s going to be a balancing act to try and figure out where each guy fits.”