Philadelphia, PA – Every time the NHL All-Star Game is played I can't help but wish that it was an Olympic year instead.
Don't get me wrong there are aspects of All-Star weekend that I enjoy, but it just pales in comparison to the alternative that comes once every four years when NHL stars compete for gold for their respective nations at the Winter Games.
Now, with Alex Ovechkin's decision to skip this year's All-Star festivities in Ottawa, the event has become an even tougher sell.
NHL players are always being painted as boring people devoid of personality and while that's a broad generalization, there is plenty of truth to the stereotype. The characterization is even more apt when applying it to superstar NHLers, as it often seems the better a player is, the more bland his personality.
That has never been the case with Ovechkin. While other players try to out- humble each other, Washington's star sniper has always been brashly charismatic when compared against other NHL greats of his generation. He is also rarely predictable and his decision to snub All-Star weekend certainly caught some people off guard.
Despite having a down statistical season by his standards, Ovechkin was selected to represent Washington in the NHL's midseason showcase, but after being suspended by the league for Sunday's illegal hit on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek, Ovi changed his mind about the All-Star Game.
Although the three-game suspension applied only to regular-season contests and did not change Ovechkin's right to participate in this weekend's activities at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place, the 26-year-old Russian said "No, thank you" to the entire event.
And the only reasons Ovechkin gave for skipping ASG weekend leave more room for questions than answers.
"My heart is not there. I am suspended, so why I have to go there?" Ovechkin said. "I love the game. It is a great event. I love to be there. I am suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel like I'm not deserving to be there right now because I am suspended."
Ok. I'm sure Ovechkin felt like that explanation would come off as him humbly deferring to the league's judgement about his hit on Michalek, but it's difficult to take him at his word. In fact, it's hard not to parse that statement and immediately see the bitter undercurrent that is really at the heart of Ovechkin's decision.
That bitterness is also evident when looking at Ovechkin's comments about the suspension itself.
"I was disappointed, actually. The most bad thing is all my career it is going to be like that. My game is play physical. My game is play hard. I don't think it was bad hit, a dirty hit. Yeah, I jumped but he don't get hurt and I don't get two minutes. I don't think it was a three-game suspension."
Maybe Ovechkin knows how valuable his presence at All-Star weekend is and removing himself from the event offers him an opportunity to protest a suspension he obviously doesn't agree with without ever actually saying that's what he's doing. Ovi knows that all eyes, and cameras, are usually on him at All-Star weekend and maybe he's not comfortable with selling the game so soon after being sanctioned by the NHL.
Whatever the exact reasons for Ovechkin's decision to skip the ASG may be, it's hard not to see them as selfish. He is putting his personal displeasure ahead of promoting his franchise and the sport that has made him a multi- millionaire.
Then again, it's hard to stay mad at No. 8 for taking his stick and going home. After all, one of the reasons Ovechkin is such an interesting figure in the first place is because he is impulsive and it's kind of refreshing how he doesn't weigh the pros and cons of every decision he makes.
One good thing that may come from Ovechkin not participating in this year's event is that perhaps this will mark the death knell for the Breakaway Challenge, or as I like to call it the absolute worst event at Saturday's Skills Competition.
Ovechkin won the event all three times it has been contested, mainly because his goofy antics always succeed in getting fans to vote for him in the what is supposed to be the NHL's answer to the NBA's far superior Slam Dunk Contest. Without Ovechkin hamming it up, the event should will be even more devoid of creativity and likely will be an even heavier anchor weighing down the Skills Competition.
Whether you agree with Ovechkin's decision or not, it's hard not to admit he will be missed at the one NHL event that emphasizes individuals more than teams.
Ovechkin's style was tailor-made for the glitz of All-Star weekend and his trademark gap-toothed grin will be notably absent underneath the bright lights of Scotiabank Place.