The argument that Alex Ovechkin is letting his sport down by skipping the 2012 All-Star Game following his three-game suspension is hilarious to me. Several players, such as Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom, asked not to be selected and got no grief for it. Ovechkin was suspended by the league, and yet he gets the brunt of the criticism? It makes no sense.
More: Ovechkin's Choice
Look, it's an All-Star Game. Whatever. His biggest mistake was offering a pretty lame excuse that he didn't want to be a "distraction" instead of having the team make up an injury for him, which is how it works in other sports. All Ovechkin had to say was that he had a "lower-body injury," and none of this outcry would have happened.
But even with his clumsy rhetoric, Ovechkin has every right to not play. If I were to craft an argument in Ovechkin's favor, it'd rely on the following talking points.
- Why should a player suspended by the league then have to be called upon to represent the league during his suspension?
- Ovechkin has done plenty as an ambassador for the game already.
- If the fans really wanted him there, they would have voted him in as a starter.
Ah, but let's think about Point 3 for a second. Isn't that the real story here?
The fans see it, so why can't everyone? The problem with those who claim that Ovechkin is the face of hockey are stuck in the past. Take Mike Wise, for example, who put out this tweet yesterday.
What's Percolating Here? 1. Ovechkin is a baby who needs to remember that he is an ambassador of his team and sport at the NHL All-Star Game— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) January 26, 2012
Is Ovechkin really any more an ambassador for the sport than a lot of other good players in the league that begged off the game? Last year, he had his worst scoring season of his career. He's on pace to finish with even fewer goals and points this year. Forty NHL players have more points than him.
That's the sad thing about all this. Bruce Arthur of the National Post is dead on when he says Ovechkin really doesn't matter like he used to matter to this league.
The distraction that resulted from Ovechkin’s withdrawal is because of Alexander Ovechkin the idea, as much as Alexander Ovechkin the player.
Which is too bad, because there was a time when Ovechkin pulling himself from this meaningless billboard of a weekend would have been truly seismic because he was the most incandescent player in a league whose majority is largely made up of admirable but interchangeable pieces. When you watched him, it was as if Pavel Bure added 30 pounds of muscle and a breakthrough personality and tried to turn people into wallpaper. There was a time when Ovechkin mattered as much as anybody in this league.
But Ovechkin-Crosby was three years and a lifetime ago, and those days are gone. What’s worrying is in a very concrete sense, on this largely imaginary weekend, it doesn’t matter that Alexander Ovechkin isn’t here, because he’s not really the same Alexander Ovechkin anymore. The weekend might not really matter, but right now, neither does he.
It may be time for Capitals fans to start facing facts. For whatever reason, the Ovechkin that revived a dormant hockey fanbase in Washington D.C. may indeed be long gone. This is not just a one-season slump or an adjustment to a new system. This is now a year and a half where Ovechkin really hasn't been all that great.
When someone isn't all that great, they shouldn't be held up as an ambassador of the game that would be letting down his sport by not showing up to its biggest athletic exhibition. If Ovechkin was the face of the league, one could legitimately make the argument that life simply isn't fair and he has to play his part to grow the sport. But he's not anymore, and therefore, that argument falls flat on his face. He's just as much a face of the sport as Selanne, Lidstrom and others who begged out of the game.
And the group of people that really suffer from that reality reside in the Nation's Capital.
We'll have more on the All-Star game throughout the weekend here at SB Nation D.C., so keep it locked to this StoryStream. For more on the Capitals that will be taking part in that game, head over to Japers' Rink. For more on this game, please check out the SB Nation NHL All-Star game StoryStream.