It appears Alexander Ovechkin is doing the honorable thing by stepping down from the All-Star game in lieu of his three-game suspension for his hit on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek. Or at least it would appear that way from his statement upon stepping down:
"My heart is not there. I am suspended, so why I have to go there? I love the game. It is a great event. I love to be there. I am suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel like I'm not deserving to be there right now because I am suspended." - Alexander Ovechkin
Any typical sports fan can read something like that and think highly of Ovechkin, ruling himself out of the All-Star Game due to a suspension that will last through to the other side of the All-Star break. Honorable, yes?
Not so fast.
I believe this Ovechkin's way of snubbing the NHL in retaliation for his falling victim to Brendan Shanahan's banhammer, which he made abundantly clear he did not agree with.
Let's take a deeper look at this PR move for a second.
Let me first start off by saying I like Ovechkin. I think he's great for the game of hockey for a number of reasons. While I can't deny that he's definitely arrogant, hot-headed, reckless and has a thirst for the limelight that even the biggest dose can't quench (a quality that has drawn the hatred of 99.9 percent of Canadian fans), his character is good for the game... ironically by how poor it actually can be at times.
Oh yeah, and let's not forget he is phenomenally skilled.
His antics on the ice, whether a dazzling goal or a squirm-inducing hit, often winds up in the highlight reels of ESPN's SportsCenter and many times are the only hockey-related highlights amidst the network's drastic over-concentration on college football and Major League Baseball.
In a geographic market where hockey is fighting to create new fans and keep the ones it has, having a player who can show up and become a name that non-fans of the sport can recognize is something huge for the NHL.
The league knows this and has jumped all over this marketing opportunity, much in the same way they did with fellow superstar Sidney Crosby. They want him on the ice because they know he is the product they can sell.
The NHL has jumped at the chance to create a rivalry between Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Ovechkin's Washington Capitals, pitting the two superstars against each other on national television at nearly every available opportunity.
I'm pretty sure if the NHL had their choice, Crosby and Ovie would have been this year's All-Star Game captains, and one of these years they will be.
However, Ovechkin knows this is his place, and he's made a move to show how much leverage he really has with the league.
With Crosby injured, Ovechkin was the only truly household name remaining in the All-Star Game, one of the NHL's marquee events of the year and one sure to draw the interest of at least a slightly-larger-than-normal amount of non-hockey fans.
Now, those guys who were going to tune in to see Ovechkin, the guy who they had seen a number of highlights of as well as the rest of the NHL's stars, have no names with which they are familiar.
In their eyes, what's the point of watching that?
By stepping down, Ovechkin has essentially nullified one of the primary reasons the NHL even has an All-Star Game in the first place: to market their superstars and the game to a larger national audience.
With the two biggest superstars gone, what does the All-Star Game really even mean anymore?
Logically, the viewership of this weekend's All-Star Festivities will now drop (as will the odds that we're going to see a repeat of Ovechkin snapping a picture of Phil Kessel when he's picked last again...) and this weekend will become just another ho-hum edition of the All-Star Break.
Will the NHL take his snub seriously? I doubt it.
But I do believe his presence at this year's All-Star Game will be sorely missed, as will his love for spontaneous and outlandish tactics that, as non-traditional as they might be, do provide for some pretty good entertainment.