ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has decided he won’t participate in this weekend’s all-star game because of a three-game suspension handed to him by the NHL earlier this week.
“My heart is not there. I got suspended so why do I have to go there,” Ovechkin told reporters Tuesday at the team’s practice facility. “I love the game, it’s a great event. I’d love to be there but I’m suspended … If I’m suspended, I have to be suspended.”
The ban does not prevent Ovechkin from taking part in all-star events. General manager George McPhee said the team supports his decision.
“He really doesn’t want to be a distraction out there either,” McPhee said. “We know what the questions are all going to be. It’s a great event and he doesn’t want that distraction and we don’t want it either.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly weighed in with a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
“In light of yesterday’s suspension we informed the Capitals that while Alex Ovechkin was still welcome to participate in this weekend’s all-star festivities in Ottawa, we would not be insisting that he do so,” Daly said. “We now understand that Alex has decided to withdraw from this weekend’s events. Given the circumstances involved, we understand Mr. Ovechkin’s decision in this regard and have no intention of pursuing this matter further.”
Ovechkin was suspended Monday evening for his hit on Pittsburgh’s Zybnek Michalek in Washington’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins on Sunday. He left his feet to hit Michalek against the boards, making contact with the defenceman’s head in the process.
The 26-year-old Russian said he was disappointed with the length of the ban.
“The big thing is all my career it is going to be like that,” Ovechkin said. “My game is (to) play physical. My game is (to) play hard. I don’t think it was bad hit, a dirty hit.
“Yeah, I jumped but he (wasn’t) hurt and I (didn’t) get two minutes. I don’t think it was a three-game suspension.”
Team owner Ted Leonsis also thought the league’s penalty was too harsh.
“I do not agree in any way with the suspension of Alex Ovechkin for three games,” Leonsis said. “I support Alex Ovechkin. He is our bedrock player – our captain — and he and his family know that we are always here to support him.”
However, the league felt it was a charging incident that violated Rule 42.
“Often on big hits or collisions, a player’s feet will come off the ice slightly as a result of the impact. This, however, is not one of those occasions,” NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan said in a video posted on the league’s website. “Ovechkin drives up, launching and recklessly making contact with Michalek’s head.
“While we accept Ovechkin’s assertion that he did not intend to hit Michalek in the head, the moment Ovechkin launches himself in the air prior to the hit, he becomes responsible for any contact to the head.”
Ovechkin is a repeat offender, who has been suspended twice and fined twice for physical fouls on the ice, Shanahan added.
McPhee said he thought it should have been a one-game ban or a fine. Ovechkin, who has 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 47 games this season, is eligible to return on Feb. 4 against Montreal.
The league has yet to name his replacement on the all-star roster.
Earlier in the day, Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell was added as a replacement for Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews.
Toews was placed on injured reserve Tuesday morning with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Hartnell leads the Flyers with 25 goals this season. The 29-year-old Regina native also leads the Flyers with a plus-18 rating and is second on the club with 44 points.
It will be Hartnell’s first appearance at the all-star game. He participated in the NHL YoungStars Game during the 2002 all-star weekend in Los Angeles.
On Monday, Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle and Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang were added to the roster. They replaced Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu and Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who are out with injuries.
There could be yet another injury replacement coming before the all-star weekend kicks off Thursday with the fantasy draft. Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn remains questionable after undergoing an appendectomy.
The skills competition will be held Saturday at Scotiabank Place with the all-star game to be played Sunday.