Western Conference captain Joe Thornton, from the San Jose Sharks, speaks to reporters during the media availability in Montreal Friday, Jan. 23, 2009, in advance of this weekend's National Hockey League All-star game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL - Sidney Crosby isn't even suiting up for Sunday's all-star game but the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is attending the festivities anyway, thus avoiding missing a regular-season game as punishment for being a no-show.
Detroit Red Wings veterans Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk, who opted to skip the game, were not so fortunate.
Both will miss the Red Wings next game Tuesday night in Columbus under an NHL rule adopted last February that says players who skip the all-star game must demonstrate that they are really injured by sitting out either the game just before or just after the all-star break.
Datsyuk and Lidstrom, who played Detroit's last game, gave all-star weekend a pass in order to rest up for the playoff race. The missed game is not officially a suspension and they won't be docked any pay.
Crosby, who missed two games last week with a sore knee but returned for the last Penguins match before the break, escaped sanctions by turning up Friday for the full weekend even though he won't play in the game on Sunday at the Bell Centre.
After deciding he couldn't play, Crosby had planned to turn up only on Saturday night for the YoungStars game and the skills competition.
A talk from league commissioner Gary Bettman to explain the consequences of not showing up changed his plans.
"It's not something I was totally aware of, but it's fine and I'm happy to be here," said Crosby, who was voted onto the starting lineup for the Eastern Conference with a record 1.7 million ballots.
And Crosby was clear that he supports the league's stand on getting the best players to the game.
"That's their decision," Crosby said of the Detroit stars. "It's up to the players and the teams to keep that in mind.
"For the all-star game, it's important to get everyone on board. I don't see anything wrong with that as long as everyone is aware of the situation."
NHL vice-president Colin Campbell said Bettman pushed for the rule because too many players were skipping the all-star game without good reason in recent years.
"We've all got obligations to the fans, the rights-holders - this game is being televised around the world," said Campbell. "I feel bad for Nicklas Lidstrom.
"He's been here how many years now? It's unfair that he gets caught in this web."
The rule does not apply to players in the YoungStars game for rookies and sophomores. Four of them have pulled out with injuries - Steve Mason, Milan Lucic, Nicklas Backstrom and Erik Ersberg.
NHL Players' Association executive Glenn Healy said the rule is "not good for hockey and it's not good for the fans."
Most players were unaware the rule even existed.
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray said he strongly disagrees with it.
"From my own experience this year, I'm honoured and happy to be here, but if things hadn't worked out so I could have my family here to enjoy it with me, that would be reason enough for me not to come here," he said. "There are things more important than coming here and sacrificing family stuff, which you do all year anyway, every season."
But Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere likes the rule.
"It's our duty as players to help promote the league as much as we can," he said. "We have to try to increase revenues.
"The more revenue there is, the more money we make as players. This is a weekend where the spotlight is on the league so it's important, especially for the star players. We'd like to see them here."
There were still plenty of stars on hand as the eastern and western conference teams met with the media at a hotel near the Bell Centre.
Crosby said he is still not sure he will be ready to play Pittsburgh's next game on Wednesday.
"Hopefully, these five days of not doing anything will give me a chance to get back as close to 100 per cent as I can," the Cole Harbour, N.S. native said. "I'll find out when I start skating again."
His teammate Evegni Malkin is in the starting lineup along with four players from the home town Montreal Canadiens - goalie Carey Price, defencemen Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek and right winger Alex Kovalev, who will be the east's captain.
Crosby's spot on the roster was filled by Tampa Bay winger Martin St. Louis.
Three western players - Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars - missed the Friday event due to flight delays.
Others, particularly Tampa Bay star Vincent Lacavalier, who recent rumours had going to Montreal in a trade, were mobbed by autograph seekers and mobbed again by media.
Nashville Predators defenceman Shea Weber drank it all in.
"I'm still in awe just looking around and seeing some of the guys I grew up watching," he said. "I play against them now, but still it's really cool."
As well as current players, all-stars of the past like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, frank Mahovlich and Guy Lafleur are on hand.
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