The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills gives hockey fans an opportunity to watch some of the best players in the world showcase their talents in a variety of events. The skills challenge is a precursor to the All-Star Game, which will be held on Saturday night at Enterprise Arena in St. Louis.
This year's Skills competition was held on Friday night and was something of a spectacle, for better or for worse.
The event was highlighted by two new competitions: The Gatorade Shooting Stars event and the Elite Women's 3-on-3 scrimmage. In Shooting Stars, ten players -- eight NHL All-Stars and two All-Stars from the women's side -- will shoot pucks from an elevated platform behind the goal, approximately 30 feet above the ice surface, as they try to hit a variety of targets located on the ice. In the Elite Women's scrimmage, a team of American women's All-Stars will take on a team of Canadian women's All-Stars in a game of three-on-three (two 10-minute periods, with a running clock).
In addition to the new events, four events returned from last year: Fastest Skater, Save Streak, Accuracy Shooting and Hardest Shot.
Here are the night's winners:
- Fastest Skater: Mat Barzal
- Save Streak: Jordan Binnington
- Accuracy Shooting: Jacob Slavin
- Women's Elite 3-on-3: Team Canada
- Hardest Shot: Shea Weber
- Shooting Stars: Patrick Kane
And here are some takeaways from the night's action:
Barzal speeds past McDavid
You won't hear many people argue with the claim that Connor McDavid is the fastest player and best skater in the NHL, and that's been proven three separate times during the NHL's Fastest Skater event. But McDavid was bested this time around, narrowly losing to New York Islanders forward Mat Barzal in the competition.
Barzal finished his lap around the rink with a time of 13.175 seconds, which was just .03 shy of setting a new record in the event. It was enough to push him past McDavid, who finished second with a time of 13.215.
Binnington brings drama in Save Streak
The Save Streak competition might be the weakest of the bunch in terms of entertainment value, but Jordan Binnington helped bring some big-time excitement to the event this year. Competing in front of the hometown crowd in St. Louis, the Blues netminder went last and needed to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy's streak of nine consecutive breakaway saves to win the event. With excitement rising and tensions building, Binnington saved his final 10 attempts to walk-off with the crown.
After securing the win, Binnington gave one of the best quotes of the night when he admitted he wasn't completely sober.
Digital targets cause frustration in Accuracy Shooting
The most painful event of the night, by far, was the Accuracy Shooting event. The exploding styrofoam targets that became an iconic staple of the Skills competition in decades past have gone by the wayside. They've been replaced by digital targets over the past few years, and this time around the NHL went with a fully digital marker box placed in front of the net. It was pretty much a disaster.
Not only did that marker box need repairs after the first shooter, but it's recognition capabilities during the event seemed to be very sketchy. Tomas Hertl appeared to strike a target several times without getting credit for it, but then Jonathan Huberdeau was gifted credit for his last target after a shot didn't even come close to striking it.
I'm sure the NHL has its reasons for eliminating the styrofoam targets -- maybe they're trying to be environmentally conscious or save time on cleanup during the event -- but watching those old targets explode was so, so satisfying and it's part of what made the event special. At the very least there's got to be a better alternative than what we saw this time around.
Canadian women take the inaugural 3-on-3 scrimmage
Team Canada took the first installment of the Elite Women's 3-on-3 game, beating Team USA 2-1 in the 20-minute scrimmage. It was a great showcase for the women's game and brought plenty of end-to-end, fast-paced action. The star of the game was Canadian goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, who made 18 saves -- including one at the buzzer to preserve the victory.
Shea Weber still shoots hard
Al MacInnis kicked off the Hardest Shot competition by delivering a celebrity shot that *allegedly* clocked in at over 100 MPH...and he did it with a wooden stick. Big, if true. But Shea Weber was once again the biggest performer in the event, as he delivered two monster bombs to win the competition for the fourth time.
As the final competitor, Weber won the event when his first shot clocked in at 105.9. But with an extra shot to spare, Weber went ahead and topped that for good measure, delivering a 106.5 MPH missile with his second attempt.
Shooting Stars event is fun but needs tweaking
One of the most intriguing parts of this year's Skills competition was the the Shooting Stars event, which has been described as "Top Golf meets hockey." It's definitely a cool idea and it was neat to see players going into the crowd and getting closer to the fans for part of the night, but the logistics of the operation definitely need some tweaking.
The biggest issue with the event was that the easiest target on the ice -- a structure molded after the St. Louis arch, but with a net in the middle -- was worth the most points. That meant that it was basically the only target that competitors shot at during the entire competition. That was sort of lame.
It's a fun bit of nonsense that can definitely be improved upon if the league messes with the targets and points system moving forward. They need to do a better job of encouraging players to shoot at a variety of targets, whether that means having a more sensible rewards system based on a target's difficulty or by making it more like darts, where you have to hit certain numbers or work towards a specific total sum.
CBS Sports covered the event the entire way, updating this story with highlights from the night that takes you into the All-Star Game on Saturday.