Admit it, that’s probably the strangest hockey headline you’ve read since “John Scott to captain Pacific Division All-Star team.” But it’s technically truthful, as Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews netted a one-game ban from the NHL this morning because he plans to miss the All-Star Game as the result of an illness.
Toews sat out the third period of Tuesday’s game against Carolina, and TV color commentator Ed Olczyk told those at home Toews was suffering from “a bug,” which makes Toews’ illness sound flu-like in nature. While a middle-of-the-season regular-season game isn’t big on many radars, the fact Toews actually missed game time without a concussion or a body part falling off is kind of incredible, so you have to believe he was really feeling the effects of the sickness.
And yet, the league can’t seem to understand not only a player wanting to get healthy for his team’s and his own good, but also a player not wanting to bring his illness to a game featuring the league’s best with the chance to potentially get all of them sick and start a league-wide flu/illness problem (hi, 2014-15 mumps breakout). So, Toews will miss the Blackhawks’ first game off the break, Tuesday at Colorado.
Now, Toews’ suspension is according to a league rule, so this is apparently something that could have happened in years’ past as well and not just a spontaneous, angry decision. You don’t see a lot of NHLers skip the All-Star Game when voted in, and I honestly don’t think it’s because of a silly one-game ban that would occur if they did skip. It’s one game in a season of 82 (plus the playoffs, for some). You can’t tell me a lot of these guys, if they could, wouldn’t take an extra day off during the long grind of the NHL regular season. We just haven’t seen this rule frequently enforced because NHLers see being selected to the All-Star Game as a privilege, even if the game is mostly a joke, and they’re proud to represent the league on a bigger stage.
So, naturally, the NHL decided that when a guy has a legitimate reason to skip the game, he needs to be punished to set some kind of mind-boggling example. It’s a bizarre look for a league that doesn’t seem to understand how to value its All-Star Game.
First, the league decided to tinker with the ASG’s format, as last season’s ASG was probably the biggest joke in the history of the game. Those in charge came up with a 3-on-3, four-team tournament with $1 million at stake. That’s something, at least.
The league also decided to let fans vote for the captains of each of the four teams, representing each of the four divisions. Many fans responded to this surprising power offer by nominating noted tough guy Scott as the Pacific Division captain. The league responded … poorly to this, as Scott was initially shipped from Arizona to Montreal and dumped into the AHL in what was likely a league-directed move to keep Scott from the ASG. Thankfully, the league corrected this course of action, and Scott will play as the Pacific captain. (Though his life is still messed up now because of the trade. Whoops.)
But now the league has suspended one of the game’s more recognizable and approachable players because he’s sick for a game that means slightly more than nothing. Really, it’s not a major concern for the Blackhawks. Having a healthy Toews for the stretch run, instead of one regular-season game, should be key, and the extra time off wouldn’t hurt in his recovery — not to mention it’d give his legs and mind a much-needed breather, considering he’s played in more than 300 games over the past three and a half seasons.
No, the major concern should be with the league. NHL officials appear to be trying to rival the NFL in foolish decisions. Toews’ one-game ban just makes you roll your eyes and say “whatever,” which is how we should approach this. It’s not a big deal, but it’s certainly silly.
James Neal of the Nashville Predators will take Toews’ roster spot in the game. On the Eastern Conference side, Alex Ovechkin suffered a fate similar to that of Toews today when he announced he’d miss the ASG due to a lower-body injury, netting him a one-game ban as well. Washington teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov will take Ovechkin’s place, and the New York Islanders’ John Tavares is now the Metropolitan Division team captain.
What do you think of Toews’ one-game ban as a result of missing the All-Star Game? Let us know in the comments.