By Corey Johnson
When I was a kid I always looked forward to the NHL All-Star Game. It was a chance to see the best players from the league face off in one, totally meaningless game.
But I don’t care anymore.
The problem started a couple of years after the 2004-05 lockout, when the NHL needed its players to be marketable, adding, in 2008 the Breakaway Challenge, where players could use their creativity (including props) to score the most entertaining shootout goal. Arguably the league’s most entertaining player, Alexander Ovechkin has won the challenge in all three years of its existence.
In 2012, the challenge will have a new champion.
Why isn’t Ovechkin going to win the 2012 Breakaway Challenge? Because he won’t be in it. After getting his third suspension in three years for a ‘dirty’ hit, the All-Star poster boy decided to take the weekend off—he’s giving the league the finger for what he believes is an unwarranted suspension.
He’s not the first player to pull out. In 2009, two of the league’s biggest stars, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, decided to use the All-Star weekend to rest. They were both suspended one game as a result. Three years later, though, the league has given up dolling out consequences to players who don’t show, and they were quick to announce that Ovechkin won’t be similarly punished.
And Ovechkin’s not the only big name missing. Prior to the All-Star selections being announced, Teemu Selanne and Lidstrom both asked to not be included, despite their seasons being All-Star worthy. As two of the league’s older players, they wanted the weekend off to rest, and the NHL agreed to let them sit it out. The NHL’s best player, Sidney Crosby, spent the better part of last year on the shelf and won’t be up to playing, either. Other players skipping out on the event due to injury include Jonathan Toews, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Dustin Byfuglien.
Absent superstars isn’t the only problem. There are players who just shouldn’t be there. Fans are allowed to vote in three forwards, two defenseman and one goalie. The game is being in Ottawa this year, and locals stuffed the ballot boxes. Senators Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson got voted in, and rightfully so, they’re both having great seasons. But the fan voting also resulted in Daniel Alfredsson (44th in scoring) and Milan Michalek (82th in scoring) making the cut. When guys like James Neal (2nd in the league in goals) and Jordan Eberle (45 points in 45 games) are left out of the All-Star Game, it shows the system is severely broken (thankfully, Eberle will replace Koivu and Neal will replace Ovechkin).
The other major flaw with the way teams are picked is that one player from every team has to be included. Montreal Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price, was picked as one of the six goalies to play in the game. Price is 16th in wins (3rd in losses), 24th in save percentage and 16th in Goals Against Average, but because the Canadiens can’t score goals, Price makes the team just because somebody from Montreal has to. Meanwhile, Pekka Rinne, 2nd in the league with 27 wins, will be forced to watch the game from home because Nashville has a pair of defensemen who also deserve to be in Ottawa.
If the league’s best players don’t care enough to play the game, why should the fans want to watch it? Maybe, like Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Ovechkin, we’ll all press snooze this weekend.