Last January, the Globe & Mail reported that Sidney Crosby was considering a no-show at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game to protest the league's player safety policies. The report was denied, the controversy raged and, in the end, Crosby's concussion kept him out of the festivities in Raleigh.
One year later, it's Alexander Ovechkin's turn to dabble in the politics of the midseason classic snub.
The Washington Capitals and their captain announced that he'll skip the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa after being suspended three games by the NHL on Monday for a "launching head shot" on Zybnek Michalek of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
GM George McPhee said Ovechkin didn't want to be a "distraction" during the All-Star game weekend. As for Ovechkin, Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times reports:
"My heart is not there. I [got] suspended, so why I have to go there?" Ovechkin said. "I love the game; it's great event. I'd love to be there, but I'm suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel I'm not deserving to be there right now. If I suspended, I have to be suspended. That's why I give up my roster [spot]."
The controversy over this, such as it is, stems from the fact that Ovechkin was eligible to still compete in the NHL All-Star game despite his suspension and chose not to.
This isn't Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne asking the NHL to overlook their candidacies after 21 All-Star games between them. This is more akin to Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk skipping the 2009 All-Star game and getting a one-game "suspension" for it. The league acted harshly there, at a time when star players were opting out of the All-Star game for non-injury reasons with much more frequency than in 2012. The NHL has since softened its stance on players opting out of the game.
So the league will not punish Ovechkin for this decision, despite the obvious undertones of protest against his suspension.
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, on this blog Tuesday morning, expressed frustration with the three-game ban:
I do not agree in any way with the suspension of Alex Ovechkin for 3 games. I support Alex Ovechkin. He is our bedrock player — our Captain; and he and his family know that we are always here to support him.
The decision has been made; and George McPhee will address the media today with our thoughts and concerns about the suspension.
The Capitals and Ovechkin didn't explicitly say that the decision was made to protest the suspension, but it's not exactly a Grand Canyon-sized logical leap when Ovechkin says he "loves the game" but that "his heart is not there" due to the supplemental discipline.
As Mike Vogel wrote Monday night on the Caps' Dump 'n Chase blog:
Ovechkin was quoted as saying that he had to cancel vacation plans when he was somewhat surprisingly named as an all-star anyway, so now that he is suspended without pay, why shouldn't he be able to do as he was planning on doing, do what most NHL players do during the break?
It's true that Ovechkin's participation in the 2012 All-Star game wasn't based on merit. He's had an underwhelming season, and the Capitals are also represented on the team by defenseman Dennis Wideman. Ovechkin is there as a gate attraction, as a star to trot out at sponsors' parties and as a walking billboard for the business interests he's paid to represent.
It's a three-day informercial for the NHL, and Ovechkin has chosen to cancel his cameo. If the NHL wanted to punish him for that decision — as we said in the Tim Thomas piece Tuesday morning, a decision that could be seen a violation of his contractual obligations, if not to the Capitals than to the NHL — we'd have no problem with it.
(We'd also have no problem if the NHL would alter its rules so a suspended player can't participate in the All-Star game. Although that does risk a rash of head-shots and slew-foots on "getaway day" ...)
But they're not going to force Alex Ovechkin to attend a party he doesn't want to attend; an event his heart's not in. I covered Ovechkin at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Trust me: The league doesn't want Bitter Ovie anywhere near All-Star weekend, despite his name brand.
Enjoy your vacation, Mr. Ovechkin. You'll be spared the embarrassment of being picked last in the NHL Fantasy Draft, and the fans in Ottawa will be spared from having to see a sullen superstar who can't own up to his actions, just like his organization can't.
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