The majority of the NHL All-Star Game roster selection coverage said that the process was not to be take seriously and that "snubs" weren't anything to get irate over. The veteran players who opted out of the 2012 festivities in Ottawa — like Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and Teemu Selanne of the Anaheim Ducks — were seen as having made understandable decisions in light of their age and service to the NHL.
What a difference three years makes. Back in 2009, Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk were given a one-game "suspension" for skipping out on the All-Star Game in Montreal, thanks to a new League mandate that excused injury only if a player missed the game immediately preceding the All-Star break. It sparked a controversy over both the players' role in promoting the game and the All-Star Game's function as a midseason exhibition.
Selanne and Lidstrom in 2012, by comparison, were given a pass. Ken Warren of Post Media and the Ottawa Citizen doesn't understand why, and ripped the players for shirking their responsibilities as ambassadors of the game by opting out of the player pool:
Call me jaded, but the league might just have given Lidstrom and Selanne a thing or two along the way, too. They have become ambassadors for the game because of what they have done and for what the league has done for them, as well.
It seems to me like the fans have paid their dues, too. In the form of expensive tickets to see the best of the best, even if it is an exhibition game. If the best don't want to come, why bother having a game?
Does he have a point? Or are Lidstrom and Selanne as far beyond reproach as they are beyond an average NHL All-Star?
A few thoughts on this:
• It's naïve to assume that it's the players driving some of these decisions. Brian Campbell told me that in 2009: "It's not just players; it's teams that are telling them they don't want to go and play either. It's both. So do you penalize the teams or the players?"
• Warren is correct that at the time of the NHL "rule change" in 2009, the All-Star Game was being plagued by star players who didn't want to take part. The previous season in Atlanta, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Zetterberg and Sergei Zubov did not play despite being selected; three other players missed the game due to injury. So the ruling against Lidstrom and Datsyuk, at the time, seemed mandatory.
• He's also correct that the All-Star Game is an orgy of marketing, glad-handing of sponsors and face time with the media. Which is why player participation, as superfluous as it is, becomes important for the NHL. If players want family time, Warren suggests bringing their families to the All-Star Game.
• That said, an important distinction: Datsyuk and Lidstrom had been named to the All-Star Team in 2009 before bowing out. Selanne and Lidstrom asked not to be considered. Can it be considered "shirking your responsibilities" if you were never formally named to the game?
• But the larger question: Are Lidstrom and Selanne exempt from this sort of criticism?
They might both in their NHL victory lap. They have 21 All-Star Game appearances between them. This isn't Steven Stamkos telling the NHL to buzz off; these are two guys that have helped market the game for the last 20 years.
Does that excuse them?
Back in 2009, I thought the NHL was right to punish Datsyuk and Lidstrom (although very wrong in not allowing the Red Wings to replace them for a game through a roster exemption). The NHLPA and Paul Kelly were making noise about how important marketing stars was to the League's success; it was tough to square that with two players opting not to play and not to show up for the carnival when an injured Sidney Crosby did.
In 2012 … I don't know, I think the Game has changed. The fantasy draft aspect has stripped away the last semblances of this being some type of honor or a product of the fans' will. Is it important that star players participate in the NHL All-Star Game? Absolutely, and especially under this star-[expletiving] format.
Is it essential that Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom participate in 2012? I'd say "no"; if nothing else, if allows younger talent (Corey Perry, perhaps Dan Girardi) to have their spotlight.
Had Lidstrom and Selanne been voted in by the fans, this is a different conversation. Ditto if Lidstrom hadn't gone beyond the call and captained an All-Star team last season.
Give credit to Warren for voicing what is an extreme minority opinion on this matter, but it's misguided.