Monday, January 26, 2009

PLAY OR SIT?

It's hard to believe that the NHL All-Star Weekend could possibly morph into a few days of controversy. Unfortunately, that's what happened this past Saturday and Sunday.

I'm not really sure how many of you have been following the "continuing saga" between the National Hockey League and some of it's injured players who decided to pass on playing in Sunday's game in Montreal.

League commissioner Gary Bettman was not at all amused with any and all players who opted out of their appearances by citing injuries. Bettman, in essence, said miss the game and expect to be suspended for your team's first game after the break. His statement was the talk of the weekend and the hockey world. It overshadowed the festivities in hockey mad Montreal and sent a message from the league to it's players regarding the importance of the weekend.

Bettman was chafed. And it's safe to assume players such as Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Pavel Datsyuk, both of who opted out due to injury, weren't all that thrilled either.

And while the intentions of the league are well founded, so are those of the players, who rightfully shouldn't be placed in a situation that could aggravate a knee sprain or a sore back or a hip flexor.

All-Star weekend has become a premiere showcase for the league, suddenly flush with tremendous young talent, rising superstars and fresh marketable faces. But it's importance off the ice is far greater than the actual game that's played on the ice.

Sure, there was no Lidstrom, no Datsyuk, no Sidney Crosby. But the game itself still featured a couple dozen of the best players on the planet. And as all-star games go, this one wasn't all that bad. It turned out to be a cliff-hanger won in the extra session by local favorite Alexei Kovalev. If putting the best players on each team was the ultimate priority for the weekend, then why would the league promote a "vote early, vote often" approach?

From a league standpoint, the importance of player involvement during this weekend can be summed up in one word.

Schmooze.

And for this, the league has a valid point. If a player is legitimately injured and cannot play in the game, they should still follow through on the spirit of their obligation by showing up for the weekend festivities. They should make themselves available to sign autographs, attend events, mingle with the corporate folks who continue to spend advertising dollars in a sluggish economy, and be ambassadors for a sport that shares more than half of the revenue pie with them. They should follow the lead of Crosby, who made it a point of attending the weekend spreading the gospel of hockey.

I would argue Crosby's impact off the ice at all-star weekend was far greater than the impact he could have had on the ice. I guarantee you the eight year old youth player from upstate New York would receive more of a thrill getting Crosby's autograph than watching him from a distance on the ice. Fans love the one on one time with their favorite athletes. It's the strongest bond of all.

So before we start docking games to those "infirmed", why don't we look at the big picture and welcome them into the weekend in a different and much more impactful capacity.

The stars are the stars, whether they're on the ice or off.

1 comment:

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