If you have the misfortune of Alex Ovechkin being your favorite hockey player, then the upcoming NHL All-Star Game will be a letdown. The captain of the Washington Capitals is skipping the showcase, even though fans voted him to captain the Metropolitan Division squad. He cites the need to “listen to my body,” get healthy and focus on the second half of the season.
It’s the second straight year Ovechkin has decided to take a powder instead of play against the rest of the NHL’s best.
Bruins fans will share the frustration, to a point. Goaltender Tuukka Rask announced a similar decision on Monday to “go away and take care of the mind and body and rejuvenate” instead of play in the All-Star game. Of course, it’s probably a moot issue since Rask left the next night’s game against Columbus concussed from an elbow to the head that was visible from outer space but apparently not to the game official across the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury, goaltender for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, is also declining the invitation to play in St. Louis.
None of this sits well for a fan who works for a living, plucks down $150 or more for a ticket to see a game, and spends more than that if they want to wear an authentic jersey with the name Ovechkin, Rask or Fleury on the back.
Skipping the All-Star Game comes with a single-game suspension. Players clearly are willing to take the penalty.
It’s also obvious that incentives for playing in the game, whether it be the potential for a bonus assured by the players contract, or a piece of the $1 million kitty given to the winning team, just aren’t enough to inspire guys earning $10 million, $6.5 million and $8.5 million per season, in the case of Ovechkin, Rask and Fleury.
Whether it means revisiting the carrots or the stick, the NHL and its Players Association need to figure out a way to get the stars to skate.
Hockey is a grueling sport. Players need time to “listen to their bodies,” as Ovechkin puts it. (And here’s hoping that Rask’s injury from Tuesday night isn’t too serious and that he’s back in the crease soon.)
But what’s the point of even having an All-Star Game if the top players stay home?