by PuckStopsHere on 01/24/09 at 02:14 AM ET
Gary Bettman has put a black eye onto the All Star Weekend. Friday afternoon, he announced that players chosen to the All Star Game who are chosen to play in the All Star Game and cite an injury as a reason to not play in the All Star Game must either attend the non-game schmooze fest part of the weekend or miss at least one game either before or after the All Star break. Effectively, this suspends players for the first game after the break who decided not to attend the event.
There are three players who fit into this situation. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to get to Montreal for All Star Weekend on extremely short notice. Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings were unable (or unwilling) to get back on time. This means that these two players will be suspended for Detroit’s first game after the all star break - which is against Columbus.
There are several reasons why these suspensions are unfair. The first is that they apply only to players chosen to the All Star roster and not the Young Stars roster. Steve Mason of Columbus and Nicklas Backstrom of Washington are missing the Young Stars Game without an injury serious enough to keep them out of an NHL game and they face no repercussions. Clearly, this shows that the suspensions are driven because of the NHL’s marketing aims. Bettman wants the All Stars in Montreal to schmooze with the NHL’s corporate sponsors, but the Young Stars do not matter nearly as much. They are not the big draw. The fact that this is transparently a marketing driven move and not one related to hockey is a problem.
Second, there is significant precedent for players opting out of the All Star Game. It has been happening for years. Some fans and the league complained, but nothing had been done to punish those players. In fact, it is somewhat unfair that a player who is such a good player that he has to play an extra game, while the rest of the league gets a vacation. The fact that a player can be punished for a series of events that began because he is a star and is forced to submit further services to the league for his reward, seems unfair. Were Bettman to decide to suspend players starting this year, he could have announced it much earlier than Friday afternoon. By the time the announcement was made, it was too late for some players to change plans and probably quite costly and inconvenient for Sidney Crosby who did.
This is all problematic because it is an example of Gary Bettman trying to expand the power of the commissioner. There is no precedent for suspending players who miss a league event. He has just created that power. Similarly, there was no precedent for suspending a player for a pre-game comment but Bettman created that power earlier this season. How much more power should Bettman grab? Given his track record is it good for hockey if he increases his power?
The final reason is that players may in fact have nagging injuries that they are resting over the All Star break. A player could force this case as a safety issue. He is injured and being forced to perform (in an extra event that most of his teammates get off) by his employer instead of rehabbing the injury. Such a legal challenge would portray the NHL in a poor light if it got mainstream media coverage, regardless of the circumstances behind it.
Detroit Red Wings fans have every right to be upset. There team is singled out for suspensions that are driven by the NHL’s marketing wing. The expansionary powers of the commissioner are a problem. This disagreement could lead to the NHLPA pressuring the NHL to kill the All Star Game entirely. Worst of all, it makes the NHL look bad to suspend some of its best players for something that is this petty. However, one game without Lidstrom and Datsyuk is not the end of the world. It is quite reasonable to imagine Detroit winning this game, despite the absence of two stars.
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