Upon hearing the news that the NHL has decided to suspend Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, my initial reaction was like that of many other people: shock.
So, I decided to mull it over, go over the facts, and take some time to get over the overwhelming feeling of disgust that I now felt towards the league and Bettman in particular.
"Relax," I told myself. "Let the weekend pass before you write about it. Don't write an article angry".
Now that the "All-Star" weekend has passed, I find myself still harboring the same feelings as when I first heard about the news.
Throughout the weekend I read numerous articles, board postings, and talked with many people regarding this matter and after careful deliberation here is what I have to say on the matter:
1) Should players who skip out on the All-Star game be suspended if they are healthy and choose not to show up?
Let's make this perfectly clear that I agree with the rule that is now in place and has been in place for the entire year up until this point. Also, let's make it perfectly clear what the operative word here is: RULE.
The All-Star game, regardless of my opinion on its importance, is a huge revenue generator for the NHL and if a player is voted in and healthy there's really no reason that player should bail on a league event. It's their job as entertainers and employees of the NHL.
However, if a player is injured then there should be no pressure for them to play and risk further injury.
2) A rule, is a rule, is a RULE!
Heading into the weekend, the new rule states that if a player cannot play during the All-Star weekend, then they are required to "prove" they are injured by sitting out the game before or after the break. Crosby has missed time before the weekend so there's no problem there.
My issue that I have with Crosby isn't that he's not being suspended, it's that he's behind Bettman and has helped spit in the face of two of the NHL's best players.
Until a day before the All-Star weekend, Crosby was perfectly willing to sit in Mario Lemieux's basement and watch the game from home. Then, a day before the game Crosby suddenly hops a plane and shows up in Montreal to attend media day on Friday and says this:
"My plan was to come here from the moment that I decided that I wasn't going to be able to play due to injury," Crosby said. "I'd had a talk with Gary Bettman as to the capacity of me being here, what it was going to be."
So, you talked to Bettman after the announcement was made to actually uphold the new rule to suspend players who don't show up? Is there a hot line you have access to where you can call the Commissioner of the NHL at any given time to change rules?
Where in this new rule is there ANY explanation of a clause stating that if a player simply shows up to the event, he's off the hook for missing the game? I'll tell you where: nowhere!
So, Crosby shows up and looks like the poster boy he is intended to be for the NHL and criticizes Datsyuk and Lidstrom for not showing up by agreeing with their suspensions.
Where were the Wings players' phone calls informing them of this new clause?
Is it a coincidence that this new clause came out of a discussion between Bettman and Crosby? Maybe. It also may be Bettman's attempt at correcting an oversight on his behalf and avoiding the unimaginable task of having to actually *gasp* suspend Sidney Crosby!
Where was Crosby last year when he was injured and still voted into the All-Star game?
Interesting time to have a change of heart, eh, Sid?
This is a rule. Rules are meant to be followed.
Is it going to be commonplace to call Bettman in order to amend a rule if it doesn't suit you?
Lidstrom and Datsyuk were more than likely aware of the game they would have to miss for missing the weekend, but nowhere were they given a chance to appeal the decision or just simply show up because this was not an option at the time.
3) Past records/common sense should be considered when deciding punishment
When the NHL decides on suspending a player, they always consider past records of similar actions if a player has a history. Why not in this case as well?
Injured. Perhaps the BEST Swedish player of all time, captain of the defending Cup champs, nine straight All-Star games, played a Winter Classic already this year for the NHL and it's fans, appeared with his team in a record 17 (soon to be 18) straight playoff seasons, and winner of four Stanley Cups.
Injured. Three straight Lady Byng ("player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability") trophies, Selke Trophy winner, three All-Star games, two Stanley Cups.
With records like these and the fact that they are international players, how are they not exactly what the NHL needs to promote the sport of hockey all over the world?
Instead, the NHL has chosen to suspend these players and smear their names. Would the same have happened to a couple of Canadian players?
Nice job of picking on a couple of Europeans who are two of the game's most humble and respected players.
4) Bottom line: Respect, or, lack thereof.
In the end, this is what it all comes down to. The fact remains that two of the NHL's best players were not given a chance to save face.
Should they have shown up? Maybe.
I guess that depends on where you stand on the situation. They are legitimately injured stars who don't want to further risk injuring themselves and putting their team in jeopardy, all for a glorified game of shinny hockey.
When you're injured, rest is paramount above all else. How does forcing player appearances, regardless of their participation level, help the game of hockey if it eventually will hinder them down the road when it matters most in the playoffs?
Do I care if I get to see Crosby in a press box from the seats if he's not playing? No. I'm a fan of hockey players because of their ability to perform ON THE ICE!
These suspensions are ridiculous and do nothing in the grand scheme of things for the respective players.
This whole situation could have been avoided had Gary Bettman handled it a little less heavy-handedly, giving the two Wings players the same consideration as was given to Sidney Crosby and in proper time so they could make other arrangements.