Opinion: Applaud Alex Ovechkin’s decision to skip NHL All-Star Game, don’t punish him
Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin is being suspended by the NHL for one game for what amounts to being really smart.
At the wise old hockey age of 33, Ovechkin is skipping a meaningless exhibition – the league’s All-Star Game – to save himself for the rest of the season and presumably the playoffs, where the Capitals will be trying to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup.
Ovechkin should be hailed for this decision, not punished for it. He’s missing the pomp and circumstance of the All-Star Game to help ensure his availability for the most important portion of the NHL season, the playoffs. If college football stars not playing in bowl games, which still count towards a team’s record, has become acceptable, then a player like Ovechkin reasonably missing an exhibition game so he can be available to his team for the rest of the season should be too.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the NHL. Because Ovechkin wants to take the All-Star break off to rest for the stretch run, a 10-year-old NHL rule requires him to miss one game either immediately before or after the Jan. 26 All-Star Game in San Jose. Washington plays in Toronto before the break and hosts Calgary after it.
How in the world does it help the NHL to keep Ovechkin out of a regular-season game, where he is at his best and most interesting? The answer is that it doesn’t, not one bit.
It’s clear that there has to be some kind of understanding that top players will play in the All-Star Game, or else soon there won’t be an All-Star Game. But there should also be a reasonable agreement that for the betterment of the league, not to mention the well-being of a future Hall of Famer, an occasional excused absence for a veteran like Ovechkin makes sense for all concerned.
In fact, if the NHL is so worried about presenting itself to the masses that it has to punish Ovechkin for missing a very public performance, why did it pull out of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang? Two weeks’ worth of games by Ovechkin and all the other great players in the game on the most visible platform on the planet were gone in a flash. Perhaps Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners can suspend themselves a few games for that decision.
One of the reasons Ovechkin is in need of some rest this season is because of what happened last season, when his off-season was a month shorter than it has been the rest of his career, for the best of reasons. He played in a total of 106 games last season, including 24 postseason games during the Capitals’ Stanley Cup championship run. This season, he has come right back to play in 38 games and is on pace to have his best season in nearly a decade. At the moment, he leads the NHL in scoring with 29 goals.
This probably is as good a time as any to mention that Ovechkin might not be in such need of a break had he not so fully exhibited his ability to be a world-class beer drinker and party boy during the Caps’ boozy Stanley Cup celebration last spring, but then I’d be labeled a killjoy, so never mind.
As short-sighted as it is, the NHL has made its decision, and Ovechkin obviously has made his. The league and its fans will miss him Jan. 26. But how happy will they all be to have him playing this spring, possibly all the way to June?
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