Take in this photo as best as you can, hockey fans, because only one of these two players has been invited to appear in Ottawa this weekend. If you guessed correctly, Washington star Alexander Ovechkin was invited, but instead has decided to skip the All-Star festivities this weekend. While it's not difficult to accept that a suspended player shouldn't be taking part in an NHL-sanctioned game, it's hard to stomach that one of the most recognizable players has decided to skip a game that really is meant for the fans and corporate sponsors. Y'know... those people who keep the blank ink flowing at the NHL offices and its teams' offices.
Now some may criticize me for taking Ovechkin to task when stars such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne get the weekend off with praise from the NHL. I suppose that's a fair assessment except for the fact that both of those players are on the edge of the All-Star Game inclusion this season. While Lidstrom and Selanne are certainly big names, and have been for some time, the inclusion of these two are more or less irrelevant for this discussion. But I will touch on these two below.
Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most marketable stars in the NHL today. His jersey sales consistently have him in the top-ten of sales, he has several deals hawking various products, and his face is flashed across a number of NHL marketing campaigns. In short, he is one of the men responsible for the success of the NHL in terms of fan and corporate sponsor dollars.
The All-Star Game, in its most empirical form, is nothing but a cash-cow for the NHL as they milk the fans and sponsors for all they can. The Fan Fair is setup for fans to attend where they can test their own skills and meet and greet current and former NHL stars. The Skills Competition, while entertaining, is its own ticket for entrance and provides a pile of concession and parking revenues for the host team. And then there's the All-Star Game itself where fans pile in, buy souvenirs, and generally exhaust their wallets, debit cards, and credit cards in an effort to obtain the latest and greatest merchandise. And the corporate sponsors? They get the free meals and tickets in exchange for them to push NHL wares and merchandise.
In pushing all this merchandise and whatever onto fans and sponsors, the NHL needs marketable stars present at the game. This year's game has seen Daniel Alfredsson become the official ambassador for the NHL in Ottawa, and I'm fairly certain that the NHL has been overjoyed with the work that the Senators organization has done in promoting this game thus far. But selling tickets to an All-Star Game is a lot easier when the stars show up to play.
And it's not just the All-Star Game that I'm referring to when I say that missing stars hurts. Arguably, the NHL Skills Competition suffers when the best players at their positions don't play. Alexander Ovechkin? He's creative, he's flashy, he likes the attention that comes with his imagination in the various talent competition, and the NHL Skills Competition needs him as much as the NHL needs a guy like Sidney Crosby healthy. In essence, the integrity of the game suffers when big-name players don't play on the biggest stages.
Remember these flashy moves from 2009?
Maybe you remember these moves from last year's game?
Ovechkin's skill set simply is unparalleled in the NHL, and that's coming from a guy who has been a lifelong Penguins fan. The fact that we won't see Ovechkin pulling off moves like those seen above this year is, to me, a shame, even if his "heart is not there".
"My heart is not there. I got suspended so why do I have to go there," Ovechkin told reporters Tuesday at the team's practice facility. "I love the game, it's a great event. I'd love to be there but I'm suspended. If I'm suspended, I have to be suspended."
If he's trying to set an example for other suspended players, good for him, but it doesn't reflect well on him from a fan's perspective. The NHL has stated that Ovechkin would be welcome at the NHL All-Star Game, but would not insist that he would be there. Again, that's fair from the NHL's perspective, but I'm not buying the "my heart is not there" babble and the suspension rhetoric.
If anything, Ovechkin, in this writer's view, is sticking to the NHL for suspending him for three games for his check to Michalek's head. That's fine for him to do when it comes to sticking it to his employer, but this event is largely for the fans and corporate sponsors. This event makes the NHL decent coin, and this allows the NHL salary cap to go up because the cap is tied to NHL revenues. This allows the Capitals to pay Ovechkin the money agreed upon in his contract, and that money is made from ticket sales, merchandise sales, and corporate sponsorship.
Personally, I believe Ovechkin should be playing this weekend. I appreciate the fact that he took himself out of the game if he isn't going to give 100%, but when names like Crosby, Toews, Pronger, Nugent-Hopkins, and Skinner aren't able to play due to injury and others such as Lecavalier, Staal, and Duchene don't make the cut, having Alexander Ovechkin there becomes that much more important.
As for Lidstrom and Selanne, I'd like to believe that they should be there, but I'm in the same thought as some of the media. If a player hits the age of 40 and is still playing at a high level so that they earn a spot in the NHL All-Star Game, but opts out of it, I, and others, believe they have earned that right after putting in two decades worth of hockey at the highest level. I do not support the 35-and-over idea being lobbed around the media circles, but I believe that any player age 40 or older has certainly earned the right to opt out of the game after putting in all their years on the ice. Especially these two classy gentlemen who have attended 21 NHL All-Star Games combined.
As for Ovechkin, he should be there. I know some people will say that a suspended player should lose all rights and privileges to play while being suspended, but his star power is something that the fans and sponsors are paying to see.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!