Maple Leafs’ Hyman taking best shot as esports franchise owner

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The NHL pause has afforded Zach Hyman plenty of time to concentrate on two of his interests outside of hockey. 

For one, the Maple Leafs forward is hoping to write his fourth children’s book, following up Hockey Hero, The Bambino and Me, and The Magician’s Secret. He’s also been able to dedicate more time to something that doesn’t get as much attention when he’s busy with hockey.

Hyman founded Eleven Gaming, a professional esports organization, in October 2018. He originally was seeking to invest in that world, but ultimately decided to form his own franchise.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to get in before there was this huge wave surrounding it,” Hyman recently told NBC Sports.

In-season, it’s Chief Operation Officer Oliver Silverstein, who has experience in the esports world, running the day-to-day of E11 Gaming. Even as he’s preoccupied with his hockey career, Hyman does keep tabs on the business.

“The operation wouldn’t function without [Silverstein],” Hyman said. “I’m in contact with him daily going over what we’ve got to do. I’m more of the big picture [person]. I like to navigate as to where we need to go and he executes the day-to-day grind to get us to that end goal.”

E11’s roster currently features eight pros from five different countries. In its first year of existence, the franchise earned over $1.5 million USD in competitive Fortnite events.

The vast differences in how generations consume media now played a part in getting Hyman involved.

“When I looked at the space a couple of years ago I saw a huge opportunity because I have a younger brother who’s 11 years younger than me and the way that he consumes media is a lot different than the way that I consume media,” he said. “The way that I consume media is through TV and watching TV shows and [to not] really record anything, you just kind of went and watched live on TV — whereas he’s watching stuff on YouTube and Twitch, Netflix, and he really solely consumes his media online.”

The business of esports has grown in the last several years. According to Deloitte, over $4.5 billion was invested into the esports world in 2018. North America was expected to see $300 million in esports related revenues in 2019. 

Games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and League of Legends have become so popular that competitions are selling out major arenas and stadiums around the world. The 2019 Fortnite World Cup sold out the 23,000-plus seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York in July.

It was at that tournament that five E11 gamers won $580,000 in prize money in solo and duo competitions. (The grand prize solo winner took home $3 million. Tiger Woods earned a little over $2 million by winning the 2019 Masters golf tournament.)

Growing the business

Hyman expanded his portfolio in March when E11 acquired SoaR Gaming and their influencer network.

Having been involved in the esports world for a year-and-a-half, Hyman has learned that it’s an ever-changing business model.

“You’ve always got to be flexible and pivot, especially in the gaming space where things change so quickly with games and with popularity,” he said. “If you look at it today, there’s a new game called Valorant. For a long time it was Fortnite and then Call of Duty came out with Warzone, so people started watching that. Fortnite’s kind of always been around and now you have Valorant where it just kind of dropped and over a million people shifted and started watching it on Twitch and it became Twitch’s most-viewed game.”

The E11 team roster is young, with players ranging in age from 16 to early 20s. Hyman’s experience as a professional athlete comes into play when his players are about to enter a competition. He can relate to dealing with nerves and having to perform under pressure in front of a large audience.

And like hockey players, esports gamers take part in video sessions where mistakes and good decisions are pointed out to help the individual and group as a whole.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down sports, it hasn’t stopped esports. Hyman and other NHLers are regularly participating in livestreams for charity or just for fun. Playing the games has given him a view into the gamers world as the E11 roster continues preparing for future competitions. 

As for long-term planning, that remains a tough task for Hyman and Silverstein.

“This is a difficult situation for all businesses,” Hyman said. “We’re fortunate that the esports business, the gaming business is primarily online. We have players and influencers all around the country that we’ve been working with remotely since inception. We’re used to working remotely, which we’re lucky enough in that sense that our business is an online business, whereas for other businesses it’s a tough time.

“It is difficult to look into the future right now because there’s so much uncertainty. But at the same time we’re lucky in a sense with how our operations run that things haven’t changed too dramatically on our end.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”


    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.


    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.


    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.


    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.