Alex Ovechkin deserved a suspension for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek. Three games? Too much.
But Ovechkin’s reaction — to skip the All-Star Game — is also too much. Like a petulant child, Ovechkin will take his puck and go home. He’ll hold his breath till he turns blue. He’ll show them! And all the other ridiculous things children say and do when punished.
Except Ovechkin is a grown man. At least grown enough to put quite a smack on Michalek’s noggin along the boards. He didn’t receive a penalty during the game, but Brendan Shanahan, the uber-janitor of the NHL, committed to cleaning up dirty hits and especially to preventing head injuries — both laudable goals — stepped in and suspended him.
And while we’re on the subject, Michalek also deserved more than the elbowing minor he received in the same game for a deliberate shot to the head of Matt Hendricks. Michalek’s hit perhaps lacked the force of Ovechkin’s, but still. Michalek got no further penalty.
That’s part of what has angered Ovechkin, George McPhee and Ted Leonsis. There is a lack of consistency in penalties, and there is also this “repeat offender” tag that has attached itself to Ovechkin, based on fines in 2006 and 2009 and two suspensions in the 2009-10 season.
Listen, Ovechkin has made some dirty hits in his career. He is not consistently a dirty player. There is a huge difference. At some point there needs to be a wiping of the slate for everyone in the league or there is no incentive for Ovechkin or any other player to clean up his act. Without that, once a player is labeled a “repeat offender,” he might as well turn to the Dark Side.
But those are issues McPhee and Leonsis can, and probably will, take up with the league at an appropriate time. That is part of their jobs. The league is still fine-tuning its rules as it attempts to prevent concussions, just as the NFL is doing.
Ovechkin’s refusal to accept the all-star invitation is a separate issue. The suspension overlaps with this weekend’s game in Ottawa, but the league would allow Ovechkin to participate.
“My heart is not there,” Ovechkin said. “I got suspended, so why I have to go there?”
Have to go there? Where, exactly, is Ovechkin’s heart? At times, it seems to be with the Caps. At times, it seems . . . elsewhere. Maybe, in a season of struggles such as this one, in Russia. Understandable. That’s his home. I’ve never knocked anyone who loves his home.
But during the NHL season, while he’s earning very good NHL money, his heart needs to be right here. If he hopes to teach the mean old NHL a lesson by skipping the all-star game, he’s going to be disappointed. There are events at which your absence is noted and commented upon: your wedding, your funeral. Otherwise, the truth is, the world keeps spinning, with or without you.
The better approach would have been to go to Ottawa, head high, and keep Dennis Wideman company. Represent the organization that’s given you a lot of time and treasure. Give your fans outside the Beltway a chance to get a glimpse of you on the ice. The all-star game is an honor, but it’s also about giving back — to the NHL, yes, but also to the fans.
Ovechkin may regard the NHL as his worst enemy at the moment, but he would be wise to look at the bigger picture, to look at all the opportunities the NHL has provided him: hefty contracts, endorsements, worldwide fame. One day, Ovechkin will return home to Russia and never have to work another day in his life, because of the NHL. Whether or not he returns as a grown-up, however — that’s up to him.