In recent years, the NHL All-Star Game tradition has seen some big-name players abstain from the annual spectacle and be suspended for one game before or after the festivities.
This year is no different, with Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin recently announcing that he won’t be attending the 2019 skills competition and 3-on-3 exhibition tournament being hosted by the San Jose Sharks so he can get extra rest.
Seeing the NHL’s best talents from the past season going head-to-head is a key selling point for the All-Star Game, so the league’s rule that players must sit out a regular-season game before or after is somewhat understandable.
Ovechkin shouldn’t be faulted for not wanting to attend events that are little more than a show for the fans when he can still entertain crowds who watch in-person and on TV for the rest of the season.
Staying healthy for the home stretch
Perhaps Ovechkin does have a nagging injury he wants to address leading into the Capitals’ bye week right after the All-Star Weekend.
After all, the 33-year-old Russian sniper does have a solid iron man streak going. He played in 106 contests last season, including all 82 regular-season games and the Capitals’ 24 in the playoffs en route to their first Stanley Cup.
The 6’3”, 235lb winger has appeared in another 43 games to date in 2018/19. The short off-season last summer and lengthy playing grind is bound to catch up at some point with Ovechkin, who broke out in the NHL in 2005/06.
Ovechkin was voted the Metropolitan Division captain for the All-Star tournament that puts the best from each of the NHL’s four divisions against each other. Other captains were Connor McDavid of the Pacific Division, Nathan MacKinnon of the Central Division, and Auston Matthews of the Atlantic Division.
That level of fan support means hockey enthusiasts likely wanted to see Ovechkin included in the All-Star festivities, but he’s arguably at his best and most entertaining during the regular season and playoffs, where the games mean much more than playing a glorified shinny mean nothing game.
Ovechkin is also at least 10 years older than the other division captains. So far, he’s shown little to no sign of slowing down, but risking a possible injury that could set him back isn’t worth it.
This season, Ovechkin leads the defending Cup champs with 49 points (32 goals, 17 assists) in 43 games. He’s averaging 21:09 per game, the most playing time he’s seen since 2009/10 and a minute more than he skated per game last year.
“Right now, my body needs a rest,” Ovechkin told The Washington Post in an article dated Jan. 2. “I’m not saying it’s sore or something, but for us I think it’s the right decision.”
Give the guy a break
Ovechkin played in the last two All-Star Games, but he skipped the 2016 event hosted by the Nashville Predators due to an undisclosed “lower-body injury.” He didn’t attend in 2012 either as he was serving a suspension for an illegal hit at the time.
Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews have all gotten one-game suspensions before for not playing in the All-Star Game. The repercussions perhaps are a bigger disservice to teams than they are to fans at the All-Star festivities if their favorite players are in the press box before or after the exhibition events marking the season’s halfway point.
Instead of penalizing him for getting some needed self-care, the NHL should commend him for putting his health and his team first. Ovechkin should be in the best possible shape if he wants to be an integral part of Washington’s home stretch and help their hopes for another deep playoff run.
Ovechkin isn’t alone in foregoing the All-Star Game this year. Montreal Canadiens star goalie Carey Price recently declined the invitation after returning from a lower-body injury that kept him out for three games.
The All-Star Game has also arguably lost its touch over the years, with the new 3-on-3 format featuring players from all 31 teams likely being the NHL’s last-ditch effort to make it entertaining. However, the game’s proceeds supporting a player's pension fund is worthwhile.
Cities still want to host the All-Star Game too, and sponsors enjoy it. In a recent 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet writer Elliotte Friedman wrote that new options for skipping the game may come up in the looming collective bargaining agreement negotiations where players may get to sit out a game if they’ve played in a few.
This idea is worth considering, along with changes to the format that might allow a better representation of the NHL’s best players instead of requiring a player from every team.
What do you think? Should Alex Ovechkin or other players be penalized for not going to the All-Star Game? Is it OK for them to take a break from the mid-season grind? Let us know in the comments section below!