Hosted in Toronto for the first time in 24 years, hockey’s superstars are set to assemble for the NHL’s annual All-Star Game on February 3. As part of the recently rebranded NHL All-Star Weekend, Scotiabank Arena will host several events over three days, beginning on February 1.

Toronto and the Maple Leafs are hosting the game for the ninth time — the most from any city and franchise. The NHL All-Star Game has had a storied history in Toronto, with the first one in league history played at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1934. This game — at the time named the Ace Bailey Benefit Game — was played to raise money to support former Maple Leaf Ace Bailey, whose career was ended prematurely by an on-ice injury. 

The first ever annualized All-Star Game was also held in Toronto in 1947, where the Maple Leafs played a team of NHL All-Stars. 

The All-Star weekend 

The NHL has continued experimenting with the All-Star Event format over the years. This year, it has introduced a third event day, officially named All-Star Thursday. On February 1, All-Star Thursday will begin at 6:00 pm EST with the return of the All-Star Draft — brought back for the first time since 2015. In the draft, four captains selected by the NHL will draft their teams from the pool of all-star players. 

The NHL Players Association will also present the NHL Alumni Man of the Year Award, and will honour the 1967 Stanley Cup-winning Maple Leafs before capping the night off with a 3-on-3 showcase by Professional Women’s Hockey League players. 

The NHL All-Star Skills event takes place the next day at 7:00 pm EST, with 12 nominated All-Stars competing for a cash prize of one million dollars in a three-round, eight-event tournament. Players will first compete in four of the six first-round events, which test their speed skating, shot speed, stick handling, one-timer, passing, and shooting accuracy. The top eight players will then move on to a shootout challenge, where two more players will be eliminated. The remaining six players will then participate in the final obstacle course round. Points will be allocated based on placements in the eight events, and the player with the most cumulative points will receive the prize money. 

Last but not least, the All-Star Game closes out the “All-Star Weekend,” where the league will use the 3-on-3 format that has been in place since 2016. Notably, the player draft will allow for cross-divisional team-ups, promising fast-paced excitement by the league’s best. 

Currently, Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly are among the 48 total participants on the All-Star list this year. Canadian Chicago Blackhawks rookie Connor Bedard was also selected as the youngest ever all-star at 18 years old, though he will miss the festivities due to a jaw fracture. 

Voting controversy 

Despite frequent switches in types of All-Star Events, the league seems to have settled on a satisfactory process in terms of voting for the all-star spots. For the second year in a row, the NHL selected one player from every team, with an additional 12 all-star spots opened to fan voting. 

Yet, fan voting results have garnered significant controversy among some fans. Notably, five players from the high-flying Vancouver Canucks were voted in, along with three extra Maple Leafs — Nylander, Rielly, and Marner. Along with the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl, eight of the 12 players voted in by fans were from Canadian teams. Some fans and teams have criticized this imbalanced selection, arguing the NHL disregards American markets, although it could also be symbolic of the lack of enthusiasm for hockey from the US in comparison to the other major sports.

Overall, it should be a fun hockey-filled weekend for Toronto hockey fans to get excited about.