After playing 20 minutes Wednesday night against Philadelphia, Alex Ovechkin announced he would not be playing in the All-Star Game this weekend with a lower-body injury that has apparently been bothering him for months.
Ovechkin is the most dynamic scorer on the planet, one of the NHL’s marquee talents and one of the players that would give this all-star weekend a fighting chance of being more compelling than the no-hit scorefests we’ve seen over the past decade. John Scott is entirely the opposite, a player who can barely play in the minors and has fewer goals in his eight-year career than Ovechkin has had in his past seven games.
Yet, until tonight, they were both slated to be in Nashville this weekend for all-star weekend. That was until Ovechkin, after playing almost 20 minutes in the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, announced he was suffering from a “lower-body injury” that would require him to skip the All-Star Game and the one following that for the Capitals, which goes Feb. 2 against the Florida Panthers.
And if you want to find one reason why Scott was voted to the game as captain of the Pacific Division team, circle back to the Ovechkin decision not to play. Ovechkin and the Capitals are not even trying to pass the smell test on this one, basically saying that Ovechkin needs the rest and they’re willing to have him sit out the league-mandated one game following all-star weekend.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game, “Ovie has gone probably more than any other player in the last decade. We have a bigger goal.” Trotz said Ovechkin has been dealing with a lingering injury since mid-November and it was a “long-term” organizational decision. Which is basically code for, “the All-Star Game isn’t worth his time.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why John Scott is playing this weekend. If the players refuse to take the game seriously by participating in it when they’ve been elected to the game, why should the fans take it seriously? So when someone on a podcast suggests fans hijack the process by voting en masse for John Scott to play in the game, they do it. They do it because they know the All-Star Game is a sham and they’re treating it that way.
“We made this difficult decision after taking into consideration what we felt was best for Alex and our organization,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said in a team statement. “Alex has been an incredible ambassador for our team and the league, but we believe it is better if he uses this time to heal and ideally be completely healthy for the duration of the season.”
So there you go. Once again, a team is putting its own myopic interests ahead of those of the league as a whole. This is a decision that will cause fans of the Capitals to cheer and for those who occupy the NHL offices to seethe with anger. As it should. Those who cheer for Washington should be thrilled Ovechkin has decided to put his team’s interests ahead of the league because in four or five months, nobody there is going to care whether he played in the All-Star Game. With the snowstorm that hit Washington, Ovechkin will have played just one game in almost two weeks, which is a bonanza for him at this stage of the season.
Not knowing the situation intimately, my bet is the Capitals leaned on their captain to take a break this weekend. Ovechkin has never hesitated to answer the call of duty, either for the NHL or for his country in international competition. If this weekend had been the usual game, Ovechkin might have participated. But with it being 3-on-3, the risk of a stress-related an injury was too great for the Capitals to bear. And with the Capitals holding an 11-point lead over the next-best team in the Eastern Conference, they felt they could risk the possibility of missing out on two points by not having him in the lineup.
It’s really, really hard to blame the Capitals for doing this. But Sidney Crosby was pilloried last year for skipping the All-Star Game, so the same standards have to apply. The Capitals and Ovechkin are putting their own interests and quest for a Stanley Cup ahead of that of the league and there is no way of getting around that. It will never change and as long as the players don’t see the merits of participating, the fans will fail to see any merit in taking it seriously.