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The All-Star Game & Ovechkin Inquisition

[Originally post on www.betonhockey.com on January 25th, 2012]

Well it appears I got my wish, and partially to my own chagrin. Alex Ovechkin will not be attending or participating in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game after all. Not because the vote for him to be there (which was clearly based on his reputation, not his current point total) was reversed, but because he’s pulled himself out.

Ovechkin was suspended for three games by the NHL on Monday for his hit on the Penguins’ Zbynek Michalek. Interestingly, the Penguins defenceman was not hurt, and Ovechkin was not penalized during the game for the play, but those points are apparently neither here, nor there. Ovie sat out his first of three on Tuesday, and is not permitted to return to NHL action until the Capitals play the Montreal Canadiens on February 4th. Since this prohibition period overlaps with the 2012 NHL All-Star Game on January 29th, Ovechkin has taken it upon himself to suspend himself from the All-Star Game (in addition to the Skills competition, which he “retired” from earlier in the season) as well.

Now some might call this Ovechkin taking the “high road” and doing the right thing – he does make a good point after all. But those in the media looking for a juicy storyline may see this as Alex either protesting the suspension laid down on him by the league, Alex just wanting to take a few days off (ala Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk in 2009, who declined their invitations, and were promptly suspended one game each for doing so), or maybe, just maybe, Alex realizing he’s not an all-star this year. Having an off-year or not, Ovechkin is a superbly talented hockey player that brings more than his share of much needed attention to the game. But what is this All-Star Game really all about? Or perhaps more importantly, after holding this game for more than 60 years, what has this game become?

Here’s what we know: these days, the ASG is lauded every year as being a farce of hockey. There’s no hitting in the game, and there’s a school-yard style team picking format; yet the NHL still keeps tally of nearly 30 individual records (most goals, assists, games played, and even penalty minutes, to name a few), charge over $100 for tickets, and give away a vehicle to the game’s MVP (Hey all you millionaires that all own 10 cars already, we’re going to get the 50 richest of you together all in a group to play a game, vote for the best, and then give him another vehicle that he’ll never drive, and will probably give away. Sound good? Great. Good talk, guys.). So someone tell me, are we fans and the participating players supposed to take this game seriously, or not?

If we aren’t, then Ovechkin should go/should be made to go, because it doesn’t matter what he’s done this year, it’s all about his entertainment value, and the extra dollar amount his presence at the game can generate through advertising, ticket and merchandise sales – and no one in the league is more entertaining at his peak than him (though Ilya Bryzgalov has been heating up lately). And if only for this reason, he should be there so Phil Kessel could have his moment of revenge to photograph Ovechkin being picked last.

But if we’re supposed to take it seriously, and get excited about the prospect of someone like Steve Stamkos or Rick Nash breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record of four goals in a game, or Mario Lemieux’s record of six points in a game, then Ovechkin should not be there for a number of reasons: one, because he’s legitimately suspended, and shouldn’t be able to pursue those feats while barred from the game; two, because he simply hasn’t been good enough to be there this year; and three, because lots of other guys deserve to be there ahead of him this year and pursue those milestones.

So NHL, what’s it going to be? Is this game worth me clearing my weekend schedule to watch your programming, or should I just trust that Sportscentre will be able to piece together a decent enough highlight package for me to get the gist of it? At least I know there won’t be any idiots skating around in it wearing sunglasses and a Tilley hat with flags stick out of it this year.

 

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