The great and the good of the NHL will descend on Las Vegas this weekend for the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday, February 5, with the All-Star Skills competition taking place the day before.
NHL All-Star Game: When and where
With the annual exhibition event having been cancelled last season due to the Coronavirus pandemic, fans will be relishing the prospect of the best players in the game showcasing their abilities once again, both on an individual basis in Friday's All-Star Skills competition before the All-Star Game itself offers up some fast-paced three-on-three action. The T-Mobile Arena, the home of the Vegas Golden Knights, is playing host to the action this year, with speculation suggesting even "the Strip" could play its part in what is sure to be an entertaining weekend of action.
NHL All-Star Game: Format
As has been the case since 2016, the All-Star Game will continue its four-team, single-elimination format with at least one player from every team in each division making up the four 11-man squads, which must include at least two goaltenders.
The make-up of the rest of the squad is not pre-defined although the Pacific Division is the only squad with only one defenseman, with the other three having two, albeit after injury-enforced changes. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov has replaced Adam Fox in the Metropolitan Division, who had originally had three defensemen, while Roman Josi has taken Nathan MacKinnon's place in the Central Division, who previously only had one defenseman.
While the All-Star Skills competition may largely be seen as a chance for players to earn some individual glory and bragging rights against their peers, it does play a part in the All-Star Game itself as the overall winner will get to choose which division their team play against in the semi-finals, with the two winners then facing off in the final.
The All-Star Game matches will each be comprised of two 10-minute halves of three-on-three hockey with no standard overtime. A tie will result in a three-round shootout, plus further rounds should they be needed, to determine the winner.
NHL All-Star Game: Previous winners
Since the change to the current format, there have only been two winners of the All-Star Game with the Pacific Division having won three times, while the Metropolitan Division has come out on top twice. The Atlantic Division has at least made it past the first hurdle on three occasions but the Central Division has only made it to the All-Star Game final on one previous occasion.
Previous form can, of course, offer some indication but there hasn't been an All-Star Game since 2020 and 19 out of the 44 participating players will be enjoying their first experience of the event.
NHL All-Star Game: Rosters
Of course, there is plenty of talent throughout each team and it may depend on how each team gels on the night, with the Pacific Division looking to become the first team to successfully defend the title with four first-timers in their squad.
Peter DeBoer's squad boasts the prolific Edmonton Oilers duo of Connor McDavid (captain and one to watch in the fastest skater event) and Leon Draisaitl, who sit joint-fourth and second respectively in the NHL's point-scoring ranks, while the latter is also joint-top in the goalscoring charts with 31. Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau also brings plenty of attacking threat having amassed 52 points (joint-seventh) so far this season, while the team will have home advantage - with the coach along with Mark Stone and Alex Pietrangelo expected to be well-supported by the Las Vegas crowd.
The Metropolitan Division's 'ace in the pack' could be goaltender Frederik Anderson, who boasts a .929 save percentage.
Alex Ovechkin is making his eighth appearance at an All-Star Game event and, as always, looks like an obvious goal threat for the Metropolitan Division. He is currently third in the goal-scoring charts with 29, two behind teammate Chris Kreider, while he is joint-fourth for points this season with 58. Jake Guentzel, who has replaced Mika Zibanejad in the squad, is joint-eighth in the NHL with 23 goals and adds goalscoring depth to the team, although their ‘ace in the pack’ could be goaltender Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes as he boasts an impressive goals against average of 2.01 (second in the NHL for goaltenders who have played at least six games) and a save percentage of .929 (third).
The Atlantic Division is the home of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions with three players from the Tampa Bay Lightning making up their 11-man squad, including perennial Vezina Trophy contender Andrei Vasilevskiy, while last season's top goalscorer Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and this season's leading point-scorer, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau, are standout offensive talents, backed up by Victor Hedman, second in point-scoring for all defensemen so far this season.
Last but by no means least is the Central Division, easily the most inexperienced of the four in terms of All-Star experience with eight of their 11 players making their first appearance. Nazem Kadri is enjoying a fantastic season with the Colorado Avalanche, having amassed 59 points to lie third in the point-scoring stats, while Minnesota's Kirill Kaprizov is joint-seventh with 52. Further offensive threat will be provided by Alex DeBrincat who is fourth-best for goals with 26 for the Chicago Blackhawks, while it could be argued that they may be the strongest team defensively, with Cale Makar and Roman Josi first and second respectively in goals for defensemen, although MacKinnon's absence (with Josi his replacement) could be a telling blow for the team.