Henrik Zetterberg leads the Red Wings with 50 points in 45 games, but he will not be playing in the All-Star Game. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s strange really, the matters of principle over which the NHL chooses to battle sometimes. Not that we should be surprised, though. When the dead-puck era was at its worst and players were being tackled all over the ice, the league took dead aim at divers. And even though far more players get hurt in fights than trying to beat out icings, fisticuffs will never be addressed the way icing infractions have.
And so it was last week when the league made a point of fining Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson for posting a $600 incentive to the player who scored the winning goal in his team’s 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, which also turned out to be Wilson’s 600th career victory.
The fine was heavy-handed and petty and cloaked in a bunch of garbage about circumventing the salary cap. Even though the money came from Wilson’s wallet and not from the Maple Leafs, the league saw fit to make a public example of Wilson and the Leafs and take aim at what is a relatively harmless tradition.
Citing Article 26 (g) of the collective bargaining agreement, the league lowered the boom on Wilson and the Leafs. It reads: “Neither a Club nor a Club Actor may pay or provide a Player anything of value, except as provided in his SPC (standard player’s contract)…Upon finding of this Circumvention by the System Arbitrator, the Player shall forfeit to the League such prohibited payment or thing of value.”
Then in its examples of circumvention, the CBA says: “A Club has an agreement to pay money or anything else of value to a Player not expressly permitted by this Agreement, or makes such a payment to a Player.”
Fine, then. We’ll agree that what Wilson and the Leafs did was in violation of the CBA and if the league wants to micromanage its dressing rooms to that extent, then by all means have at it.
But why, then, does the league choose this year to not adhere to the letter of the law and go after miscreants when it comes to the annual exercise of bowing out of the All-Star Game? It happened again last week when NHL executive Brendan Shanahan tweeted that, without naming names and teams (Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings), there were players who, through their GMs, took a pass on the league’s annual no-hit festival.
Well, the league wasn’t exactly getting all technical when it came to having its best players in one of its premier events of the season. If you’re going to go after a team for handing an extra $600 of the coach’s money to a player, shouldn’t you also take to task those who clearly violate their standard player’s contract?
After all, it’s right there in black and white. One of the first things the SPC says is, “The Player agrees to give his services and to play hockey in all NHL Games, All-Star Games, International Hockey Games and Exhibition Games to the best of his ability under the direction and control of the Club in accordance with the provisions hereof.”
Now, we realize this is a tough one to enforce; the Ottawa Senators might want to think about getting out of Alex Kovalev’s contract on the grounds he isn’t playing to the best of his abilities. But it should be pretty simple when it comes to the All-Star Game. If you’re selected to play, you go and play. If you don’t and you’re not sitting out games due to injury, you’re in clear violation of the standard player’s contract.
Two years ago, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk were both suspended a game for not taking part in the all-star weekend festivities after both begged off the game with injuries. They weren’t suspended for not playing, but for not being in Montreal for the weekend. It was under an NHL rule that stated for a player to beg off the all-star festivities because of injury, he had to sit out either the game before or after to prove his injury was legitimate. But this time around, apparently it’s all right by the league for a player to take a pass.
It’s strange Zetterberg allegedly can’t play in the All-Star Game because of a nagging back injury, yet he’s playing some of his best hockey of the season. His back certainly doesn’t seem to be affecting him too much these days and really, is participating in a skills competition and a no-hitter really going make his back more wonky?
No. He knows it, the Red Wings know it and the league knows it, but everybody seems to think it’s fine. Even though this CBA was supposed to be all about growing the game and the players and the league being partners, this is another example where the alleged partnership is a complete sham.
And so is the NHL’s system of discipline that seems to pick and choose when it wants to play tough and when it wants to play fast and loose with the rules.
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