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San Jose lands All-Star Weekend as NHL outlines international games, esports plan

North American ice hockey league the NHL has announced that the San Jose Sharks will host its 2019 All-Star Game, while it has scheduled games for next campaign in a host of European markets and China as well as outlining plans to form an esports competition.

The announcements were made as the NHL staged its 2018 All-Star Game in Tampa Bay at the weekend. San Jose’s SAP Center will host the event for the first time since 1997 on January 26-27 next year. 

“It's very big for San Jose to land the All-Star Game simply for our fans,” Sharks president John Tortora told NHL.com. “I've been with the Sharks now for seven years, and so many fans come up to me and still talk about the 1997 All-Star Game. The SAP Center opened in 1993, so to bring the game back after 22 years is long overdue and it's primarily for our fans to celebrate the great game of hockey.”

Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said Sweden, Finland, Germany and Switzerland will host games in 2018-19, with pre-season encounters set to return to China.

The Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils will open their 2018-19 regular season in Sweden, with each team also playing a pre-season game in Europe.

The Devils will also play in Switzerland, the home country of center Nico Hischier. The Oilers will compete in Germany, the home country of center Leon Draisaitl. Cities and dates for the preseason games have yet to be finalised.

The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets will play two regular-season games in Finland in early November, continuing the NHL Global Series. Florida forward Aleksander Barkov and Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine are two of the most prominent Finland-born players in the NHL.

“We are extremely pleased with the continuity of our international visits,” Bettman said. “You cannot develop an international strategy or establish a presence without these events.”

The NHL staged its first pre-season games in China on September 21 and 23 as a means to tap into the local market ahead of Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 winter Olympic Games. The Los Angeles Kings defeated the Vancouver Canucks in both encounters in Beijing and Shanghai.

Although details of this year’s fixtures have not be confirmed, the NHL will return to China in 2018. “As you know we do international events jointly with the (NHL) Players' Association,” Bettman said. 

“We partner together and we need to make sure as we go through this process that both sides are comfortable with all the details. Rather than rush into announce something we need to make sure our partners are in sync.”

Meanwhile, Bettman revealed that the NHL is set to become the latest US major league to launch an esports competition. “Our goal is to unveil something before the end of the regular season, which would have a series of competitions using the EA game and we'll have more details when we're ready to launch,” Bettman said, according to the Field Level Media news service.

Basketball’s NBA and American football’s NFL have already formed esports operations.