By Saam Bozorgmehr
Special Contributor to Ball Hogs Radio
How many times do we all wish we had the opportunity to tell our bosses to “shove it” and be able to get away with it? Unless you rake leaves or shovel snow for a living, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that its closer to “never” than it is, “all the damn time.”
In essence, it’s what Alexander Ovechkin said to Gary Bettman and the entire NHL front office in response to his recent 3 game suspension after last sunday’s game against Pittsburgh. In protest to his suspension, Ovi has decided to sit out this year’s All Star game in Ottawa and I totally support his decision- as a life long Caps fan and a fan of the NHL.
I can entertain both arguments. I respect the fact that he’s sticking up for what he believes in, but PR wise, he needs to suck it up and be there. I get it. I’m a firm believer in doing what you think is best to support your team and promote your brand, but sitting out the All Star game is not the best way to go about that.
Again, I get it! I could write an article just as long, if not longer, talking about why it’s a tragedy that Ovechkin is not attending the game. It sends the wrong message to the other players in the league, it’s cheating the fans out of the experience, blah blah blah.
But the bottom line is, I wouldn’t actually believe what I would write because I stand by Alex on this. Screw you NHL. You’re the first ones to put Ovi on every commercial, idolize him, and you turn your back on the guy faster than Nick Saban did to the Miami Dolphins. What a shame! Would you suspend any other player 3 games for a hit like that who’s had no history of violent hits on his resume over the last 120+ games? I don’t think so. If Ovechkin gets hit violently, not only does that player not get suspended, but it’s deemed as an “equal hit” on a guy who has a reputation for playing rough and “dirty.”
Ovechkin was unjustly suspended 3 games for a hard hit on Penguins defenseman Zybnek Michalek which, keep in mind, was not even called a penalty during the game. Ovechkin clearly left his feet in trying to make the biggest hit possible and should’ve been called for a charging minor. Typically a hit like that gets you a 2 minute minor or a fine at the very worst, but this is a clear case of the NHL making trying to make an example out of one of it’s biggest stars in order to send a message that hits to the head will not be tolerated. By doing this, the NHL has labeled Ovechkin, a player they deem to be one of the FACES of its league, as a ‘dirty player.’
Be careful what you wish for.
You can’t tell a guy like Ovi to stop playing so physically and aggressively and then expect him to continue to be the force that he is. His physical play is the reason for his success! It generates offense for the Caps and creates opportunities for other forwards to get involved.
To be quite frank, the only people you would ever hear call Ovi a dirty player are ignorant Penguin fans who seem to forget that SIDNEY CROSBY isn’t exactly a Lady Bing (sportsmanship award) candidate and they have a guy by the name of Matt Cooke. Yeah, the same Matt Cooke who’s been suspended for more than 20+ games in his NHL career for delivering hits MUCH dirtier than Ovechkin’s dirtiest hit.
Let’s add anyone in the Southeast division to the list of Ovechkin haters (because they’re too scared to admit that Ovi draws more fans to their stadium than their own team does) and anyone in Canada as well. The rest of the players you talk to in the league admire Ovechkin’s aggressive play and understand that if you play the game at such a fast pace, you’re going to make a few guys upset. That’s hockey! It’s the nature of the game! Lot’s of guys have made amazing careers playing that way in this league and have earned spots in the Hall of Fame. You think of NHL greats like Keith Tkachuk, Eric Lindros, Jeremy Roenick. Or current players like Evegeni Malkin, Claude Girouz and Jonathan Toews in Chicago who all play a very aggressive style, lead the league year in and year out in hits, and give their team offensive firepower.
Why is Ovechkin labeled any differently than these other guys? Is it because of his 2 suspensions he had over 2 years ago? Or is it because the NHL is just super sensitive to what Mario Lemiuex has to say? I would certainly hope that the Penguins owner has no say in matters like this, but after seeing what’s transpired over the lat 48 hours, it’s hard to think otherwise. And to make matters worse, Ovi’s replacement in the all star is a Penguin…
Again, I understand why they did it. The league is trying to walk the fine line of protecting its players from career ending injuries and promoting the physical play, big hits, and violence that is a huge draw to the sport’s average fan. They’re going through a transition phase much like the NFL is where they’re doing their best to change the culture of the game. Today’s hockey is not the same game that guys like Ovechkin, Malkin and other players are accustomed to playing. With all the rule changes and restrictions to goalie padding, it’s no secret that league is trying to generate more offense so that the average NHL game can draw more fans. 5-4 overtime games generally do better in TV ratings than a 2-1 win in regulation. It’s hard to argue that.
However the NHL is not the first league to make examples out of their star players. The NFL continues to do it with guys like James Harrison, Ndamukong Suh and so forth. Look no further than when the NBA fined Kobe Bryant $100,000 for the gay slur murmured while the camera was on him (not at all comparable offenses, but clear cut examples of the NBA and NHL making an example of their star players). In the case of Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, he’s been put in a no-win situation and the NHL has created the ultimate double standard.
On one hand, they’re sending a message by saying that Ovechkin’s hits are deemed as “dirty”. However, they still want him to be the “face of the all star game” especially since Sidney Crosby is hurt. One the other hand, the league is willing to make one of its star players sit out 3 CRUCIAL games when his team needs him the most. But they want him to go to Ottawa with a smile and help promote the league?
Well Ovi, I’m with you on this one. Eff them all!
Tell them all to shove it! Tell every CINDY Crosby fan out there to go sit on one and tell every single person in the NHL front office to screw themselves! Why should you go up there and help the league promote a game and their sport that they’ve openly said that you don’t play the proper way? At what point do the double standards stop? At what point do we stop attacking someone for playing the game physically, aggressively, and with emotion? If I’m Ovechkin, the last thing I would want to do is help the league make a DIME off of my name after they went out of their way to deem me as a threat to other players in the NHL. I don’t understand why ANYONE would go to the All Star game under those circumstances.
Keep in mind, Ovechkin wasn’t voted in to the All Star game. The league asked him to participate so that they can market him and use him to promote their game to its fans. It’s no secret that his performance, as well as the team’s offensive production has dropped over recent seasons. The Caps are fighting for a playoff spot and teams that they’re used to seeing below them in the standings are now in front of them. The team has sacrificed their own individual offensive numbers for a much more sound defensive game and only time will tell if these changes are beneficial for this team to win a cup.
However one thing is certain- the league can’t just make an example out of one of their best players one day and then expect him to go to All Star weekend in Ottawa with a smile on his face the next. Especially when his attendance is not mandatory to begin with.
I wouldn’t do it and I totally would feel the same way for any other player not named Ovechkin. Even if Ovi decided to go to the game, he would be the ultimate distraction because of everyone asking about the suspension. It’s a no-win situation for him any way you look at it so why not have him take a few extra days off, sit out the rest of this unjust suspension and help this team go after its 5th consecutive division title and make another run at the cup? It makes the most sense.
As a fan of the NHL, it does upset me a little to not see Ovi lined up against some of the best in today’s game. But as a Caps fan, I’m ok with starting the next half of the season with a healthy, angry and motivated Ovechkin!