There’s nothing quite like the thrill of that first All-Star Game appearance.
Ryan O’Reilly is already feeling it. The Buffalo Sabres center is calling it a dream come true. Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals is bringing his family to Nashville, saying, “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Jaromir Jagr, though, does not share their enthusiasm.
Maybe the league’s oldest player is feeling his age at 43. Or maybe, after participating in 12 of these gatherings during the course of his legendary career, the Florida Panthers forward feels like he’s done his time. Whatever the case, he’s made it clear that he has no interest in participating in this weekend’s festivities.
And who can blame him? An invite to the All-Star Game is a high honor, but the novelty of participation tends to wear off. Quickly. Because it’s more than a few yuks during the Skills Competition and a bit of Sunday afternoon shinny. It’s everything else that goes with it, the dealing with family obligations and photo ops and autograph signings and media sessions and event appearances. And while they’re racing around trying to fulfill all their duties, the All-Stars’ teammates back home are using the time off to rest their tired bones on a warm, sunny beach somewhere.
It’s no wonder then that a few players have looked for an out from time to time. But the NHL has pushed back. Hard.
This is a big moment for the league. National TV exposure. Massive sponsorship opportunities. And the biggest schmoozefest of the season. No surprise, given what’s at stake that the NHL wants to put its best skate forward. And so, in recent years, the league has demanded cooperation from the players. Anyone who backs out of the game, whether it’s due to injury or just a desire to not play, has been required to sit out (with pay) his team’s first game after the break. Back in 2009, both Pavel Datsyuk and Nick Lidstrom begged out of the event by claiming nagging ailments. Neither was allowed to skate in Detroit’s game against Columbus two nights later. Just last year, Sidney Crosby was suspended for one game after an injury kept him out of the midseason classic.
Fortunately, the league hasn’t had to pull out the big stick too often. The players, for the most part, recognize their responsibilities.
“It's our duty to help promote the league as much as we can,” former NHLer Jean-Sebastien Giguere said in the wake of the Datsyuk and Lidstrom suspensions.“We have to try to increase revenues. The more revenue there is, the more money we make as players. This is a weekend where the spotlight is on the league, so it’s important, especially for the star players.”
Giguere was right, of course. That’s why, all things considered, it’s a perfectly reasonable rule. But like all rules, there should be room for an exception.
Call it the Old-Age Absolution. The Geritol Exemption. Or just the Jagr Rule. Because when a 40-plus player says he’s tired and would prefer to stay home, the league should acquiesce.
It takes an incredibly concerted effort to keep an elite athlete in peak condition, but that commitment goes above and beyond for someone of Jagr’s age. Which is worth noting since he’s now the fifth-oldest NHL position player of all-time. And 82 games from October to mid-April is enough of a strain. Should he really be expected to give more?
Granted, his situation is complicated by the fact that he was voted by the fans to be the captain of the Atlantic Division squad. No doubt he would be one of the weekend’s premier attractions, especially when players like Crosby and Carey Price won’t be on hand. But there will still be plenty of flashing lights and loud noises, from the new three-on-three format to the presence of minor-leaguer John Scott.
The event will be fine with or without him.
So a little consideration isn’t asking too much. If he wants out, for whatever reason, that’s the honor he should be granted.
The numbers game
• Goaltender Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks posted seven shutouts during the past four seasons combined (203 games played). He’s already equaled that number in 41 games this season.
• The Los Angeles Kings have reached 30 wins in the fewest games (48) in the franchise’s 48-year history. Their previous mark was 30 in 51, achieved in 1980-81 and 2005-06.
• San Jose Sharks forward Jumbo Joe Thornton needs two points to become the 33rd player in NHL history to post 1,300 in his career. He has at least one point in 17 of his past 18 games and is working on a nine-game streak.
• So did you hear the one about Tyler Seguin and Johnny Manziel hanging out at a rap show?
• After just four months of working together, it appears that Mike Babcock is going to turn Nazem Kadri into a star.
• Congrats to Team USA on capturing the gold medal in men’s sledge hockey over the weekend.
• Here’s a Louisiana perspective on the challenges of growing the game in the south.
• And finally, your morning heart-warmer, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.