Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bettman Whistles Two Wings for Disappearance

A few days ago, the NHL declared that both Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk would be suspended one game for skipping the All-Star weekend festivities in Montreal. What? Just because I wasn't timely about it, you thought I'd pass over such a huge issue involving two Red Wings? Not a chance. In fact, I'm coming at this with extra gusto since I've had a few days to think about it.

First, the reason behind Datsyuk and Lidstrom's absences: Datsyuk left the Wings' last game in Phoenix with a hip flexor injury and Lidstrom, who scored two goals in that game, cited an elbow injury in order to bow out of the All-Star exhibition. Neither injury would probably keep them out of a regular season game, but it was enough for them to pass over the All-Star game.

Problem is, a new rule that was implemented this year says that if a player is elected to the All-Star game but doesn't want to play because of an injury, he must show up at the festivities and participate to promote the league. (This is why Sidney Crosby, who won't play this afternoon because of a knee injury, wasn't suspended: he showed up and took questions and signed memorabilia for the fans in Montreal like a good little boy). I think the rule could be a good idea because it penalizes the league's stars if they don't help promote the league on one of its most important weekends throughout the year. But, the rule is terribly vague. If it is going to exist, it must have some sort of distinction for the type of injury.

I'm not going to argue that Lidstrom's "elbow injury" and Datsyuk's hip flexor are serious injuries: they're not. Lidstrom's is as real as Scientology and Datsyuk would have had no problem topping all challengers in last night's Skills Competition on two hip flexors. So, their choice to stay at home after the Wings' eight-day road trip and spend time with their families is fair game for suspension by the rule. The problem that I have is that if either of them were seriously hurt in that last game, perhaps with a broken bone or concussion, the rule makes no exception and they would still be suspended for one game. I take issue with that.

But in the same vein, the rule is too specific! It lays down the law for All-Stars, but not for YoungStars (the YoungStars game is a short, 18-minute contest between the league's top rookies and sophomores during All-Star weekend). Steve Mason, the star rookie goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Nicklas Backstrom, a strong sophomore defender for the Washington Capitals, decided to use their nagging-but-by-no-means-serious injuries to phone in their absence in the YoungStars game. Neither player will be suspended. And, considering that the one game that Datsyuk and Lidstrom will miss is Tuesday night's contest against Columbus, it seems kind of important that the Blue Jackets' league-leading goaltender can play but the Red Wings' two best players cannot. Especially if the Red Wings were to say, lose that game and come in second to the Sharks in the West at the end of the season by a single point. And don't underestimate that possibility. It's very real.

But, a rule is a rule. Bettman did the right thing for laying down the law on these two stubborn players! Right? Haha. Oh...sorry, lost my objectivity there for a second. That's a valid point you make sir or madam, but you are mistaken.

Nicklas Lidstrom has been one of the NHL's best ambassadors for broadening the game with his respect, leadership, and consistent winning. He's also competed in the All-Star charade for the past nine years straight. Give the man a break. Pavel Datsyuk has three consecutive Lady Byng trophies for most gentlemanly player on his resume. Yeah, those two guys just scream suspension-worthy.

And don't even try to argue that Datsyuk and Lidstrom "owe it to the fans to show up." Cry me a river, seriously. The fans vote for the All-Star starters, not the reserves. Datsyuk and Lidstrom were picked because they are great players, not because the fans wanted them in. If you think that there would be this much of a fuss if Thrasher's reserve Brian Little skipped All-Star weekend and was suspended a game, you've been spending too much time listening to Gary Bettman.

The end result is that the Red Wings will now have to play Columbus, a division rival who is only two points out of a playoff spot, without two of their best players. Then, they'll wait and see how it affects the rest of the season. Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn't. But that doesn't change the fact that in today's All-Star game, the defending Stanley Cup Champions will have no representation while every other team has at least one player in the game. I bet that's a first in history.

All-Star Boycott '09. I'm in. Are you?

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