The 2023 NHL All-Star Weekend is upon us. Friday night will be the All-Star skills competition, the broadcast of which will begin at 7 ET on ESPN and ESPN+. Saturday will be the All-Star Game itself at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida, with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN+.
Things typically get a little goofy -- in the best way possible -- for the skills competition, and the South Florida destination for this year's event means that we will see two Florida-centric outdoor events: the Pitch 'n' Puck and the Splash Shot. Of course, the skills competition will also include classic events such as fastest skater, hardest shot, breakaway challenge and accuracy shooting.
Who do we think will win these events, and what else are we excited about seeing? Our panel is here to debate those very questions.
Who wins the fastest skater?
Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Cale Makar. Hockey fans talk a lot, and rightfully so, about Nathan MacKinnon's speed whenever the focus is on the Colorado Avalanche. The reality is that Makar is also one of the fastest skaters in the league. Avs players have told me that the following doesn't happen, but it'd be dope to see Makar and MacKinnon challenge each other at practice to see who is faster.
Emily Kaplan, NHL reporter: In 2016, then-rookie Dylan Larkin set a mark of 13.172 seconds -- blazing fast -- breaking the 20-year record for the event. I say the Detroit Red Wings captain avenges a so-so showing last year and regains his crown.
Arda Öcal, NHL host: Give me Kirill "The Thrill" Kaprizov in an upset. I have no statistical basis on this -- I just want him to win.
Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Makar is a sneaky-fast skater. We always give love to the forwards in these events, but if there's a defenseman who can out-speed any competition, it's got to be Colorado's breakout blueliner.
Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Give me Chandler Stephenson of the Vegas Golden Knights in an act of defiance. You have people saying, "Why is Chandler Stephenson here instead of a Seattle Kraken player to replace the injured Matty Beniers?" And then you have people that are simply saying, "Why is Chandler Stephenson even here?"
Winning the fastest skater competition would be a declarative statement. He should break into "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman" in the postrace interview.
Take a look back at the best moments from the hardest shots contest at the NHL All-Star Game.
Who wins the hardest shot?
Clark: Let's go with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones. He had a strong showing in 2019 when his hardest shot reached 99.4 mph. It was good enough for third then. Maybe there is a chance he adds a bit more velocity and walks away with this year's title.
Kaplan: I feel like people will overlook Elias Pettersson, but he's the favorite for me. And it sounds like the puck and player tracking data from the season would back me up.
Öcal: I'll go with Josh Morrissey. I wouldn't want to block his shot, would you?
Shilton: Going with Josh Morrissey here, too. They play a hard game in Winnipeg, and Morrissey has had some practice putting his weight behind a shot. Plus, this is a great moment for him to show off a little and get on anyone's radar who hasn't noticed what a terrific season he's having for the Jets.
Wyshynski: While I long for the days of Zdeno Chara setting the radar gun ablaze through the sheer velocity of his shots, perhaps I'm underestimating this group. I'll also go with Seth Jones, who has experience in the event and will probably relish the chance to put some existential angst about the Blackhawks' current status behind his slapper.
Look back at the best moments from the accuracy contest at the NHL All-Star Game.
What do you think about the outdoor events this year?
Clark: On one hand, it's a creative way to commemorate the All-Star Weekend being in South Florida. On the other hand, it makes you wonder if this it will be something the league will do in other markets. For example, what would be the outdoor event in Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg in February?
Kaplan: I'm all-in, and love how the league is constantly adapting to the local environment and trying new things. The Splash Shot is going to produce some fun moments -- especially with good buddies Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon competing as a partnership.
Öcal: I love them when they are in warm weather. If the All-Star Game is ever in the wonderful city of Winterpeg, I hope for all involved that there are no outdoor events taking place, or that they are sponsored and outfitted by Canada Goose. While in Florida? Keep us at the beach all day long! Please!
Shilton: The NHL trying anything new is a good thing in my book, especially at All-Star Weekend! The outdoor element is a nod to where the event is being held (shoutout, South Florida) and allows the league to incorporate more creativity into its annual showcase. Dig it.
Wyshynski: I'm torn, but only because of the pre-taped nature of the events. For example, I'm someone who appreciates the unpredictability and occasional chaos of the sketches on "Saturday Night Live," rather than the tightly edited pre-taped segments. That said, the commercial parodies and behind-the-scenes vignettes they pre-tape are exponentially funnier.
Ultimately, I lean more to the positive on the outdoor events, particularly because of their ingenuity -- like hockey golf! -- and the undeniable comfort of the players involved, working at a pre-taped pace.
Ahead of the 2023 NHL All-Star game, listen to the best all-time moments of players mic'ed up during the game.
What are you most looking forward to seeing?
Clark: Seeing the fan turnout for the game. One thing South Florida does extremely well is turn out for events. It's another reason why the College Football Playoff, New Year's Six bowl games and the Super Bowl do so well there. South Florida excels whenever there is a spectacle, and to see what it can do with the NHL All-Star Game should be interesting to watch.
Kaplan: Jason Robertson competing in the Pitch 'n' Puck event. Robertson told me this summer that he's notoriously not a good golfer -- despite golf generally being the go-to hobby for most hockey players. Robertson said he's probably in the bottom first percentile of all NHL players when it comes to golf, and in his words, "How am I supposed to get good at golf if nobody invites me?"
This event isn't purely golf, but it's going to be entertaining to see him compete in a golf-inspired event.
Öcal: I am still holding strong for an eventual "breakaway challenge becomes the dunk contest" narrative, so I hope we see elite creativity in the contest.
Shilton: I can't wait to see how this Splash Shot event goes down. The pairings are incredible -- Crosby and MacKinnon? Yes. Tkachuk brothers? Even better -- and if it brings out the fun side of these guys, then it's all the better for everyone. Does anyone have a special trick up their sleeve? How into it will the players get? Excited to see if they'll embrace the spirit of the thing and really go for it.
Wyshynski: Sidney Crosby. I've covered All-Star Games for the entirety of his career. The biggest story about Sid used to be why he wasn't participating in one -- injury, apathy, etc. -- rather than what he was going to do at All-Star Weekend.
But as he's gotten older, this experience has meant more to him. At 36, "Sid The Kid" is participating in a dunk-tank shooting contest and working with his former arch nemesis Alex Ovechkin in the trick shot competition. That's wild! I love casual, fun-lovin' Sid. It took a while, but he's here.