A Few Stars Missing From National Hockey League's All-Star Game in Montreal

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 2009

MONTREAL, Jan. 24 -- When the puck is dropped Sunday at Bell Centre, most of the players named to the NHL All-Star Game will be here. Most, however, isn't good enough for the NHL anymore.

Increasingly frustrated with the game's biggest names bailing on its midseason exhibition, the league has instituted a policy that calls for one-game bans for players who skip the all-star game after playing in their teams' previous games, igniting a heated debate in this snow-covered city.

Detroit Red Wings veterans Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk -- both of whom bowed out to recover from nagging injuries -- are the first to face one-game sanctions under the new policy, but Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who also won't play in the game, will not, because he's in Montreal and available to participate in off-ice activities.

"You come here to Montreal and you're going to see all the players who laid the foundation for this game," said Colin Campbell, NHL vice president of hockey operations. "And now the responsibility is on the players who are active today. I know their teammates are off in the sunshine and they're still here working. These guys are compensated very well; there's an added responsibility for them."

NHL players association officials don't agree.

"We look at things from the standpoint of, 'Is it good for hockey?'," said Glenn Healy, a former NHL goaltender and current director of player affairs for the NHLPA. " 'Is it good for fans?' If a guy is banged up or has a tweak, and by playing in this game it will affect his ability to play in the stretch drive and the playoffs, then this isn't the place for them. Let them get better and let them get healed because our fans will benefit down the road."

Among the questions being raised: (1) What constitutes an injury, and when is that injury severe enough to justify missing the all-star game? and (2) Are teams such as the Red Wings gaining a competitive advantage over say, San Jose, because Datsyuk and Lidstrom are resting while Sharks center Joe Thornton is here participating?

After seven players skipped last season's game in Atlanta, Commissioner Gary Bettman proposed at the general managers meetings a new policy aimed at making sure fans who pay top dollar for tickets, as well as corporate sponsors, are treated to all of the stars.

Because neither Lidstrom nor Datsyuk missed any time with the Red Wings and did not show up in Montreal, they will be scratched against Columbus on Tuesday, the league said, but will not be docked any pay since it's not a suspension.

"Nick Lidstrom has been here nine years in a row," said Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock, who is the assistant coach for the Western Conference. "He has some tendinitis in his elbows, has all year long. Pavel Datsyuk left a one-goal game after the first timeout in the third period. So I think that pretty much sums all that up."

Asked about the players association's stance on the punishment, Healy shrugged and said: "That's way out of our control. We don't get a vote, right?"

The players have varying opinions on the subject.

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