NHL’s Bill Daly says trend of players skipping All-Star Game ‘a concern’

The decision by Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin to skip back-to-back All-Star Weekends has the NHL concerned it could start a trend among players, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“In terms of player participation, is that a concern? Yes, I think it is a concern,” Daly told the ESPN On Ice podcast this week.

“I was the first to defend Alex Ovechkin’s decision last year to take a year off, because he’s been fabulous in terms of helping the league in promoting the sport, including the All-Star event every year. Last year, I was much more willing to look the other way on something like this. But two years in a row is probably something we do need to address with the players’ association, so it doesn’t become a trend.”

Ovechkin opted out of the 2019 All-Star Game in San Jose, California, to rest, following the Capitals’ long run to the Stanley Cup championship in the previous season. He will be skipping the 2020 All-Star Game later this month in St. Louis to rest up for the second half of the season.

“Thanks, first of all, fans, for voting me,” said Ovechkin, 34, whom fans voted in as Metropolitan Division captain in both seasons. “It’s a hard decision, but I have to listen to my body. I have to get ready for the second half of the year. I have to be healthy and focus on different things.”

Daly said those who are selected for the NHL All-Star Game and opt out are neglecting to fulfill their obligations as players.

“I do believe that there has to be a little more urgency among the players to make this a priority, because I think it should be a priority. It is, in fact, one of the job responsibilities when it comes to being a professional ice hockey player. When you’re honored to be selected in an All-Star event, it’s in every player’s contract that he has an obligation to perform in that All-Star event,” Daly said.

There are repercussions for not meeting that obligation. Per NHL rules, a player who is named to the All-Star Game but does not participate is suspended for one regular-season game, either immediately preceding or following the All-Star break. Hence, Ovechkin will miss either the Capitals’ Jan. 18 game at the New York Islanders or the Jan. 27 contest at the Montreal Canadiens.

Ovechkin won’t be the only player suspended this year for skipping the All-Star Game, as Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury also has opted out.

In the past, players such as Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and former Detroit Red Wings greats Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk have been suspended for missing the All-Star Weekend after being selected, some because of injury or illness.

Daly said the current punishment hasn’t proved sufficient in discouraging players from skipping the event. Even so, the league might not seek to increase the penalties through collective bargaining with the players, he added.

“While we’ve instituted some consequences for refusing to participate, in some cases those haven’t proven effective,” he said.

“I don’t think the answer to every problem is to look to discipline people. That’s never been [commissioner] Gary [Bettman’s] style; it’s never been the league’s style. That’s not what we’re looking to do. What we want to do is make sure everybody understands that it is an important event, not something that should be bypassed lightly. We’ll seek the help with the [NHLPA] in instilling that sentiment with the players.”

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