by PuckStopsHere on 01/29/09 at 04:22 AM ET
One of the more dubious arguments put forth to defend the suspensions of Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom for missing the All Star Game is that this rule interpretation was made clear in a February 2008 GMs meeting. Obviously, I don’t attend GM meetings (not being a GM) but it seems odd that there is not record of this rule interpretation in any media report from February 2008. You would think that if this was made clear at the meeting somebody would have seen fit to mention it to a reporter who would have thought it important enough to write about. Strangely that didn’t happen. I have looked for such an article and I never found it. I asked the Kukla’s Korner readership if they could help me find such an article and nobody did.
What does this mean? I am willing to believe that the issue of non-participation in All Star Games was discussed at the meeting (along with lots of other things). It doesn’t seem clear that GMs left the meeting thinking that the discussion was complete and suspensions would occur for players who did not come to All Star Weekend at least to schmooze off ice. If this was a clear point decided at the meeting it would have received some media play.
Beyond that, it is clear that at least two GMs who were present at the meeting, Ray Shero of Pittsburgh and Ken Holland of Detroit, did not understand that Gary Bettman would interpret this rule this way. If they did, Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk would not have announced they were going to miss the All Star Game (Crosby from media reports did so under pressure from the Penguins organization to miss it). The fact that Crosby’s plans changed dramatically and he attended the weekend but did not play upon learning about Gary Bettman’s ruling shows that the Pittsburgh organization was unclear upon it. The point was not made clear in February 2008. If there is no clear agreement made at this GM’s meeting (and the evidence suggests there wasn’t) then the most meaningful precedent is the 2008 All Star Game. This was a game where players including Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo missed the game with no injury and no repercussions. That is clearly what was expected by NHL teams this year.
Further, if the unpublicized agreement had been made at a nearly year old GMs meeting and not mentioned again then where does that leave teams with new GMs? Teams such as Vancouver (Mike Gillis) and Tampa Bay (Brian Lawton) no longer have the man in the organization who attended the meeting. The organization could be completely in the dark about it. Luckily for these organizations, their representative was healthy.
The All Star Game suspensions were wrong (and I have not addressed in this post any philosophical reasons for this - merely the fact that nobody was clear about this ruling until Friday afternoon of All Star Weekened). They were wrong because there is clear precedent to let players skip All Star Game. It had happened for years. If it had been clearly agreed upon that this would change before this game occurred, the situation would be different. The NHL has tried to establish that it was clearly agreed upon citing a February 2008 meeting. The problem is there is nothing on record to suggest this clear agreement had been made and at least two GMs who acted as though there was no such agreement. Therefore, I doubt that any clear agreement had been reached. Regardless of that, the damage has been done. Lidstrom and Datsyuk were suspended for a game. Detroit played short handed and lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the tight race for playoff spots in the West Conference, the big loser in all of this might be the team that Columbus beats out of the playoffs by a margin as small as these tainted points.
NOTE: Puck Daddy has some Ken Holland quotes showing that he was aware of the possibility of a suspension as early as Wednesday but it is not clear that he believed anything final had been decided. He clearly speaks of ongoing discussions with Colin Campbell.
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