NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the right call two weeks ago when he decreed Detroit Red Wings Nik Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk sit out the Wings’ first game following the all-star break as the penalty for failing to participate in all-star weekend activities in Montreal.
While many commentators and fans blasted the commissioner for his decision, he really had no choice but to fully enforce the policy he had been articulating for at least the past two or three seasons.
As a former NHL GM, I recall attending meetings and/or participating in conference calls in which the commissioner discussed that very policy as a means of ensuring compliance and participation.
The issue, of course, is gamesmanship. A player decides skipping all-star weekend is in his best interest and his team willingly supports him. When I was GM in Tampa, our coach, John Tortorella, was always thrilled for the players selected to participate in the all-star festivities.
However, he would have welcomed each and every one of them to “opt out” and get some much-needed rest. As an organization, we would gladly support the player and our coach.
Such a result may have been in our best interest, but it was not in the best interests of the NHL and it was not fair to the other teams whose players sucked it up and met their responsibilities.
While it is an honor to be named an all-star, the event itself takes place at a tough time on the schedule. Players are banged-up and bruised and the regular season grind has them fatigued and in need of rest. Believe me, a three- or four-day break physically and mentally sounds great to tired players. Certainly that’s the way many NHL coaches and GMs view the break for their teams.
However, as members of the NHL we need to look at the collective good and consider not what is best for our parochial interests, but for the broader interests of the league as a whole.
To the extent not all 30 member clubs can see that forest for the trees, the commissioner must establish rules, regulations and policies designed to ensure compliance and a level, equal playing surface.
All that adds up to the policy stating a player missing all-star weekend festivities as a result of an “injury” must not have played in his team’s final game before the break or cannot play in his team’s first game after the break.
It is unfortunate a class act such as Lidstrom and one of the league’s model franchises, Detroit, were the ones forced to pay the price. The fact those aggrieved are so well liked and respected made the hue and cry even greater.
However, it is in precisely such circumstance the rest of us need the commissioner to enforce his edicts fairly and impartially.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.