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Anatomy of an All-Star Weekend

In 2011, the NHL introduced a new format for its all-star game, one that is unique among All-Star Games. Between picking a city, fan voting, Fan Fair, a fantasy draft, the SuperSkills Competition, and the game itself, there`s a lot of moving parts here.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Picking a Host

It doesn't seem as though there's any structured method for a city getting an all-star game. It seems the higher-ups of a franchise express their desire for a game to Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league offices work to fit it into the rotation. Sometimes a franchise has to meet a certain milestone, such as the 12K season ticket benchmark the Carolina Hurricanes met to hold the game in 2010/11, and teams can have hosting taken away from them, as happened with the then Phoenix Coyotes when the 2006 Olympics came and the next unassigned all-star game came after the team entered league-ownership.

The Fan Ballot

Fan voting, which opens in late November every season that has it, began in the 1985/86 season. Fans vote from a selection of top performers at the time voting opens, and have the option to write in who they'd like to see get in that isn't on the ballot. The three forwards, two defencemen, and one goaltender who receive the most votes are automatically in the all-star game, with the NHL's higher-ups picking the rest of the All-Stars, until there are enough players that each team has 12 forwards, 6 defencemen, and 3 goaltenders. This format has had minimal changing through the years, though the methods have changed several times. In 1998/99 the NHL introduced electronic voting online. In 2006/07, the NHL retired the paper ballots and in-arena voting and expanded online voting to allow unlimited ballots. After a fan campaign to vote in a journeyman plug into the 2007 contest and a ballot-stuffing bot resulted in four Canadiens players, including the decidedly undeserving Mike Komisarek, being named starters for the 2009 contest, real-time voting statistics, CAPTCHA protection, and a hard thirty-ballot-per-device limit were also instituted.

Fan Fair

After the NHL suspends the season for the All-Star Game, a Fan Fair opens up in the host city with hockey-related attractions for the duration of the All-Star weekend. The Fan Fair is usually held at the host city's convention centre and has contests, hockey-related activities, merchandise sales, a public skating rink, food and entertainment, and an NHL Trophy procession.

Building the Teams

After the last Wednesday of January, there is a day off to prepare for All-Star Weekend. Once the year's All-Stars are selected, they vote for who they'd like to captain, and thus build, the two All-Star teams. Conveniently, both the 2011 and 2012 games featured a team captained by the host city's team's captain (Eric Staal for Carolina and Daniel Alfredsson for Ottawa). On the first day of the All-Star Weekend, a Friday, the two captains, starting with the winner of a puck flip, take turns picking a team a la pickup games or fantasy drafts. Each captain picks two alternate captains from among their roster, and have their selection from a pool of 12 Calder-eligible rookies. If a player refuses to participate in the All-Star Game without a pass from the NHL for injury or personal reasons, the player will serve a one-game suspension immediately preceding or succeeding the All-Star Weekend, as happened with Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom in 2009. If a player can't participate, the NHL names a replacement in time for the fantasy draft. For coaching, the current format has the coach of the defending Stanley Cup champions, along with his assistants, being assigned to an all-star team based on the result of a pre-draft coin toss, with the other all-star team being co-coached by the coaches with the highest win percentages in both conferences.

SuperSkills Competition

On the Saturday before the All-Star Game itself, a series of mini-events are held in the vein of the NBA's slam dunk challenge. Unlike other All-Star competitions, the SuperSkills Competition consists of several events to showcase the diverse talents of those named to take part.

  • For the Fastest Skater competition, each team decides on five skaters to participate in heats going from end-zone to end-zone, with outward turns, to centre ice. There's a heat for backwards skating, goaltender skating, fastest rookie, and two forward-skating All-Star skaters. A team gets one point for winning a heat, and both get a point for tying. The fastest skater from each team races in a final race, the winner earning an additional point. It is re-raced in the event of a tie.
  • For the Breakaway Challenge, one rookie and two veteran all-stars from each team take turns taking a shot against each team's choice of goaltender. The twist is that rather than serious breakaways, they're performance routines, with an emphasis on humour, showmanship, and props. Once it's finished, fans in both the arena and at home watching on TV vote via text message. Whichever team's players combine for the highest percentage of votes earns the single point.
  • For Accuracy Shooting, each team sends four shooters, including one rookie, and four passers. The passers alternate passing pucks to the shooter, who has to break four targets at the corners of the net as quickly as possible. Each player is matched up against a player from the other team. The fastest accuracy shooter from each team face off in a final. The winner of each matchup earns their team a point. If a matchup ends in a tie, the two go again.
  • The Skills Challenge Relay consists of a combo-platter of events. Each team names two squads of eight players, one rookie per squad: one passer and three shooters for one-timers, an accurate passer, a puckhandler, a stickhandler, and an accurate shooter. First, the three shooters have to score three goals each off one-timers from the designated passer. Second, the other passer has to get a puck in each of six tiny nets, once a separate event in itself. Third, the puckhandler has to skate with the puck through an obstacle course of cones. Fourth, the stickhandler has to guide the puck through an obstacle course of pucks a la that online Bauer ad with Patrick Kane. Last but not least, the final shooter has to do the accuracy shooting challenge. One squad for each team has right-handed one-time shooters, the other's are left-handed. The squad with the righties go against each other, and the squad with the lefties go against each other. The fastest squad of each heat earns their team a point, both getting a point in the event of a tie. In addition, the team with the fastest squad overall gets an additional point.
  • For the Hardest Shot competition, four players, one rookie and three veterans, take shots on goal, trying to get the hardest. Each player has to shoot from 30 feet from the left of the net, shooting from no closer to the net than the blueline. The shot's speed is measured in miles-per-hour by radar. Each player gets two attempts, alternating between teams. The player with the fastest recorded shot of each matchup earns his team a point, picking the best of two attempts. If the player's stick breaks or the the shot speed isn't recorded due to technical error, the player gets another attempt. If there's a tie, the shooters go again until one gets a faster shot than the other. The hardest shooter from each team face off in a final match, with the same rules as the preliminary round.
  • Finally, there's an elimination shootout. Eleven veteran all-stars and one rookie, 12 players in all, try to score goals on the goalie, who is subbed out for the next one every four attempts. Any player that scores earns his team a point and moves on to the next round. Those that don't are eliminated. The winner of the challenge is the last player to score, and the event is over when A) nobody scores, or B) only one player scores. If in scenario B, one shooter remains and scores but his team is behind, he can continue to shoot until he is eliminated.

The scores are totaled at the end of the SuperSkills Competition, the winner being the team with more points. In the event of an overall tie, the two captains compete in a shootout against the goalie of the opposing captain's choice, whichever captain wins the shootout earns his team the deciding point.

The All-Star Game

Lineups are determined, presumably by the coaches, to play in the all-star game. Each of the team's three goalies play one period. Unlike the NFL's Pro Bowl, the NHL All-Star Game isn't played with a revised rule set. As players have difficulty learning proper systems under unfamiliar coaches with unfamiliar teammates, the All-Star Game is a higher-scoring affair than the typical NHL match. In addition, the fact that it's an exhibition game isn't lost on the participants, so one can expect a less physical game with no dirty hits and no fighting. Teams don special uniforms for the event, and there have been numerous different ones through the All-Star Game's history. At the end of the game, a player, either a sentimental favourite or a game scoring leader, is named game MVP.

After the All-Star Game, players get the Monday off to return to the season's routine and prepare to finish the season.