The reaction to Alex Ovechkin’s decision to snub the All-Star Game this weekend reminds me a lot of four years ago when Scott Niedermayer decided to sit out nearly half the 2007-08 season after his Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Ovechkin should have been suspended one more game by the NHL – in addition to the three he received for his head shot to Zbynek Michalek – for skipping the festivities, no question about it. The fact the NHL chose not to do so was cowardly in the extreme, not to mention a clear statement that it puts absolutely no importance on its signature event.
After all, Ovechkin unquestionably broke the terms of the standard player’s contract every NHL player must sign. It’s a document that clearly states, “The player agrees to give his services and to play hockey in all NHL games, all-star games, international hockey games and exhibition games to the best of his ability.”
Pretty straightforward. You violate the terms of the contract you signed in good faith and you get suspended, the way NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did to Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings three years ago for skipping the game without having significant injuries.
But why exactly does Ovechkin have to endure all kinds of vitriol for his decision, while Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne get a free pass despite doing exactly the same thing? Lidstrom basically told the league not to select him this year because he did not want to participate and Selanne, quite publicly, informed everyone that he pulled out and gave his spot in the game to teammate Corey Perry.
Where exactly is the difference here? It doesn’t matter why Ovechkin chose to snub the NHL. It almost certainly has something to do with the fact he’s so upset with a three-game suspension – he doesn’t really understand the concept of being a repeat offender, does he? – which is petty and childish, to be sure. But Ovechkin gets slammed for his decision while Lidstrom and Selanne don’t because, by not meeting the expectations his first couple of seasons created, Ovechkin has singlehandedly converted his legion of admirers to critics. Lidstrom and Selanne, on the other hand, are two of the most respected players in the league, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to change the terms of their multimillion-dollar contracts whenever they feel like it.
Back to the Niedermayer situation. What everyone conveniently forgot about Niedermayer’s decision to cool his heels for a half a season was that he had a binding contract to play for the Anaheim Ducks that year. But he chose not to because he wanted to contemplate his future in the NHL and spend more time with his family. It was a contract holdout, plain and simple.
Is that really any different than what guys such as Alexei Yashin and Keith Tkachuk used to do in a ploy to get more money? Not in my opinion. Yashin and Tkachuk held out for more money and Niedermayer held out for more time. They were both selfish for different reasons, but selfish all the same.
But because Niedermayer was a pillar of the NHL community and a great guy who had already won every title short of the World Tiddlywinks Championship, he received a free pass from almost everyone. What people conveniently put aside was that Niedermayer’s actions caused a huge financial and roster mess for the Ducks and created a sense of uncertainty that was part of the reason the Ducks season was derailed.
There’s no question the All-Star Game would have been richer for the presence of Ovechkin, who is usually the life of the party on and off the ice and remains an enormous personality. But it would have been great if Selanne and Lidstrom had decided to show up as well, particularly considering this might be the last time anyone gets to see the future Hall of Famers in an All-Star Game.
Why the league did not suspend Ovechkin is mystifying to say the least. But it also should have named both Lidstrom and Selanne to the game instead of bowing to pressure from a couple veterans. By the time this season ends, Lidstrom will have earned in excess of $100 million during his NHL career and Selanne will have taken home $70 million.
Expecting all of them – Ovechkin included – to play in the All-Star Game doesn’t seem too much to ask, particularly when their contracts clearly state they must fulfill that obligation.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.