Neal to Replace Ovechkin at All-Star Weekend?

Written by Brian McCormack on .

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In light of recent events, Alex Ovechkin will not be travelling to Ottawa to participate in this weekend's NHL All-Star Weekend festivities.

Maybe the prospect of being the last pick in the draft was just too much for the Washington captain to risk.

According to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Ovechkin explained, "My heart is not there. I got suspended, so why I have to go there?... I'm suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel I'm not deserving to be there right now."

Well, he's right about one thing. He doesn't deserve to be there.

Not more than the likes of Pittsburgh's James Neal or the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron, one of which will surely fill his roster spot by the end of the day.

Bergeron has been brilliant for the Boston Bruins this season, and is arguably one of the best two-way centers in the game. His 41 points in 46 games puts him on a pace that ties his career high, when he scored 73 points in 2006. His +27 rating is third in the NHL.

Neal started the season on a tear and was putting together a Hart Trophy campaign of his own before the recent surge of Evgeni Malkin. Still Neal sits 15th in scoring, averaging nearly a point a game, while carrying the Penguins through their injury-plagued start to the season that pulled Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal, and even Malkin for several games earlier this season.

Neal is one of the more popular choices to replace Ovechkin, especially after Flyers winger Scott Hartnell was chosen today to repl.ace Jonathan Toews, who went on injury reserve earlier this week. Hartnell is having his best season, on pace to top his career high in production by 20 points.

But Hartnell has had the benefit of playing with Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux for most of the season, while much of Neal's performance has been a solo act.

Most glaring is the issue of Ovechkin's withdrawl. Ovechkin continues to be a shadow of his former self for the second straight season, 38th in scoring and being selected primarily on pedigree. And yet to snub the event when he was the choice of the league offices is a calculated obscene hand gesture to the NHL and the All-Star Game, regardless of what he says.

How can this format be taken seriously when one of the biggest names in the sport withdraws himself solely because he is suspended and doesn't feel he belongs? Even if it's true, the league loses credibility by it's own choice to include him. And now, Ovechkin will use his own suspension by the league as an excuse to take a week off.

And one can't forget the league's decision in 2009 to punish Nick Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings for skipping the All-Star Game, suspending them each three games. The NHL has said they won't take any such action against Ovechkin, justifying his decision and setting a precedent for future withdrawls, again weakening an already lackluster event.

In any event, we now know what we will see from here on out. The All-Star rosters will be announced, a handful of primary stars will withdraw preferring to rest, and a list of borderline candidates will go in. This is not to argue that Hartnell and Neal don't belong in the game. They certainly do. But will they be remembered as All-Stars in the coming years, or will Neal and Jordan Eberle be thought of as All-Star after-thoughts?

After all, if Ovechkin can get consideration on name alone, then such an All-Star selection should get Eberle, Hartnell, or even Jason Pominville consideration for years to come.

Such will not automatically be the case, unless the league's elite need a day off.

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