January 23, 2009
MONTREAL -- The NHL's attempt to strong-arm players who no-show the all-star game was, by far, the hottest topic of the Western Conference media scrum. Which sort of makes the NHL's case when you consider players in the game were being asked so many questions about players who weren't there -- rather than the guy standing next to them.
The NHL says it will enforce an understanding that all players who decline to show after being named to the All-Star teams must miss at least one game before or one game after the All-Star weekend.
A little background, from what I've been able to ascertain. No less than seven players missed the NHL All-Star Game last season in Atlanta for various reasons: Martin Brodeur wanted the rest, Sidney Crosby was hurt, Roberto Luongo wanted to spend time with his pregnant wife (which, we hear, got her in trouble in the first place ... rim shot).
I've been told NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed this concern before the 2008-09 season, and mentioned penalties for players -- specifically starters -- who did not play in the all-star game without a legitimate injury excuse.
Whether Crosby decided to come here to Montreal because of this internal pressure is up to him to confirm. But all the talk around here is about the League "targeting" the Detroit Red Wings players who have opted out due to injury.
"I've answered it about six times today already," he said, at the tail end of the Western Conference all-stars' press mingling.
Campbell said that it's a shared responsibility between the teams and their players to get representatives to the all-star game. "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?" he said.
Think about the Columbus Blue Jackets. Consider if Steve Mason had somehow been voted into the NHL All-Star Game as a starter. Pascal Leclaire is done the season, and Mason and the team claim he's playing through discomfort.
Honestly, if he can play a regular season game through back spasms, he can play one period of all-star hockey, right? Should the NHL force the guy they're calling Stevie Franchise into an exhibition game?
"If these guys have injuries, then they need to get better," said Campbell. "There's a lot at stake for the playoffs. It's not easy getting there, and some teams really want their players to rest and some players feel like to be at their best they need the rest."
Exactly. It's an exhibition game. Sure, the players should have a legitimate injury concern. And hey, maybe they show up anyway like Sidney is.
But is the attendance of either the Red Wings in the NHL All-Star Game more important than ... oh, let's say the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Campbell said that's a fair point, but that the all-star game remains an important event.
"The best players should be here. If they can come. It's a great event."