Unlucky or Unwilling: NHL Stars Bow Out of All-Star Weekend

In what has looked to be a series of misfortunes, a number of NHL stars have gone down in the last few days right before the league’s NHL All-Star festivities this weekend. But with some of the injuries seemingly coming out of nowhere, it almost seems as though some players might be trying to get out of the weekend in favour of some time off.

Stars Injured at Last Minute

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby bowed out of the game Thursday night after the Pens made the announcement via their Twitter page. The news seemed to come out of nowhere, but the team insists that the sixth highest-scorer in the NHL this season, had been dealing with an injury for a while, but had been playing through it.

And if Crosby’s announcement came last minute, then the news that Colorado Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson would also miss this weekend’s All-Star activities, must be considered last second. The Avs also broke the news via their Twitter page saying that Johnson also is battling an injury and won’t be made available.

Fellow Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin and Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky also announced Thursday that they would be missing the game. Malkin left briefly during the Pen’s game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers and though he returned and played the rest of the game against Philly, he did sit out Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Evgeni Malkin missed Wedneday's game against the Hawks with a lower-body injury.  (Tom Turk/THW)
Evgeni Malkin missed Wedneday’s game against the Hawks with a lower-body injury. (Tom Turk/THW)

Meanwhile Bobrovsky was injured during the Jackets game Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets. During the second period he went down to make a pad save and seemed to hyper-extend his left leg and had to be helped off the ice. The 26-year-old was unable to put any pressure on his leg as he left. Bobrovsky’s injury seems more serious than the others, and since the All-Star festivities are taking place in Columbus, it seems unlikely he would want to miss the chance at taking part in front of his own fans.

While Malkin as mentioned above, missed Wednesday night’s game so his injury is not very suspicious. Crosby’s and Johnson’s on the other hand at least seem to be very peculiar. The Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, in a statement, said that Crosby had been playing with an injury for a while now and actually had an MRI done earlier this week. The team said that he was seen by their doctors who recommended to Crosby that he sit out this weekend or risk further injury.

Speculation About Severity of Injury

It does make sense to some degree, but what seems odd is that, if the injury was that bad why didn’t the team sit him out earlier. It is clear that the team knew of the injury and if the injury was known before Wednesday’s game, it would be interesting to know why he played. Crosby played the entire game against the Hawks and in fact had three minutes of ice-time more than his season average of 20:04. Why would the team have Crosby play in much more rigorous games and then not make him available at the All-Star game when he could coast the entire weekend and get away with it.

Meanwhile Avalanche star, Johnson, also pulled out of the game and even less seems known about the state of his injury. The Denver Post reported that the Avs blueliner hadn’t been practicing much and has been banged up, but the fact is he has missed just one of the team’s 48 games this season. The only game coming back on November 26, when the Avs dropped a 3-2 decision to Chicago.

What is also suspicious is that Malkin, Bobrovsky, Crosby, and Johnson all are categorized as dealing with lower-body injuries. And though the term is not new and upper and lower-body have become the norm in categorizing injuries, when it comes to Crosby and Johnson they further help to question just how injured the two stars are in their vague description.

Alex Ovechkin bowed out of the 211-12 All-Star game while he served a suspension. - Photo By Andy Martin Jr
Alex Ovechkin bowed out of the 2011-12 All-Star game while he served a suspension. – Photo By Andy Martin Jr

History of Players Missing the Game

Players missing the All-Star game due to injury or other reasons is nothing new either. During the last edition of the mid-season festivities back in 2011-12, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin pulled himself out of the All-Star game in Ottawa. Ovechkin did so because at the time of the game he was in the middle of serving a suspension from the league and he didn’t feel it was right for him to participate under those circumstances.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, however remarked that the league would have allowed for him to participate, but that if he felt that way they would not force him to take part. Back in 2009 Detroit Red Wings stars Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom were suspended a game each after the two both decided not to take part in the All-Star game and to instead deal with ongoing ailments. This one game suspension has continued to be implemented for players missing the All-Star game, but has not become known as suspension, but in terms looks to be used as proof in a sense.

The NHL wants to assure that if an injury to a player is so severe that they can’t take part in the game, than the injury should be so bad that they can’t play during their team’s first game following the All-Star weekend. The only exception to the rule being if the player also missed time before the weekend. So, in this case, Evegni Malkin will be eligible to return to the Penguins lineup following the All-Star game, while Crosby will not, when the team plays the Jets on Tuesday.

A Loss to the Fans and League

For players selected to play in the All-Star game it is the chance to play alongside the league’s elite players and put on a show for the fans. While for those not invited it is a great time to relax. New York Rangers backup goalie Cam Talbot tweeted earlier this week that he was vacationing in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic during the break, not a bad way to spend the time. This further suggests that the players also look forward to the time off.

What hurts the NHL most, and likely why they would prefer to players to play in the game, is when big stars such as Crosby and Malkin can’t attend, their pull and influence to bring fans to the spectacle is lost. And this year with the game being in Columbus, it is an opportunity to help grow the game in a city that, despite last year’s playoff appearance, is still among the worst in attendance.

Despite their playoff appearance last year, the Jackets attendance is 24th in the league. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Despite their playoff appearance last year, the Jackets attendance is 24th in the league. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Columbus has the 24th highest average attendance this season attracting an average of 15,611 people to their home games. That is 86% capacity of the Nationwide Arena, which is the fourth lowest percent in the NHL ahead of Arizona, Carolina, and Florida. So, the All-Star game would help to bring more people to the area and possibly help get those less interested in hockey to come out for a game.

It is hard for the NHL to force players to go to the All-Star game and even harder to prove or disprove of a players health. It’s hard to imagine that a player would completely fake an injury to get out of the weekend’s festivities, but equally troublesome to understand why a player who misses no time when points are on the line, couldn’t play a low-intensity game of shinny.

Many believe that the NHL All-Star game has lost its luster in recent years and it isn’t the spectacle that it once was, which could be why the need to participate by players doesn’t seem to be there. Injuries do happen, but for the fans sake, let’s just hope that we are seeing a case of bad luck and not one of un-interest.