WASHINGTON -- For the second consecutive season and the fourth time in his career, Alex Ovechkin has chosen not to participate in the All-Star Game after being voted by fans for the Metropolitan Division. He made the announcement after the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
“Thanks, first of all, fans for voting me,” Ovechkin said. “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. It’s a hard decision, obviously, being the captain and missing the All-Star Game, but have to do best for me and for my team.”
Ovechkin, 34, is still one of the league's top offensive players with 23 goals and 14 assists in 39 games. He currently ranks fourth in the NHL in goals, just four off from leader David Pastrnak.
Like last year, the decision was made not due to any nagging injury, but in order to get extra rest.
The NHL’s All-Star weekend will take place on Jan. 24-25. The team’s bye week begins on Jan. 19. By skipping the event, Ovechkin will get over a week of rest to prepare for the rest of the season.
“You don’t have extra days off during the year, but you have to take what you have to take,” Ovechkin said. “If I was 21, yeah, I’m healthy, I’m good, but I have to think about the second half of the year and the playoffs. That’s the most important thing for me and for this organization as well.”
Ovechkin has participated in seven All-Star Games in his career, the second most among active players trailing only Patrick Kane's eight. This marks the fourth time he has been invited but declined the invitation.
In 2012, Ovechkin was suspended three games for a hit to the head on Zybnek Michalek. Despite being suspended, Ovechkin was still eligible to participate in the All-Star game, but said “If I suspended, I have to be suspended” and did not participate. In 2016, Ovechkin withdrew because of a back injury. Last season, like this year, Ovechkin withdrew in order to get more rest.
By skipping the All-Star Game, Ovechkin will be subject to an automatic one-game suspension. He and the team will have the choice of missing either the last game before the break on Jan. 18 against the New York Islanders or the first game back on Jan. 27 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite knowing this will mean losing his captain for a game, head coach Todd Reirden said Friday he supported Ovechkin’s decision.
“I know it was a really difficult decision for him,” Reirden said. “I know it's something that he put a lot of time and thought into. Obviously when you're voted in by the fans, it's a special, unique honor and it's something he doesn't take without serious thought from what the right thing to do is for himself and for ultimately for our team. He knows that at 34 now, the right thing for him is not to go through that.”
“You don’t want to miss the game, but the rules are the rules,” Ovechkin said.
Unlike last year, Ovechkin is not coming off a lengthy postseason run. For the 2019 event, the Caps were only a few months removed from their Stanley Cup championship. This year, however, Ovechkin had a longer summer off due to the team’s first-round playoff exit. But on the other hand, Ovechkin is another year older. At 34, he is averaging 20:46 of ice time per night which is more than he averaged even when he was 26 (19:48) and about consistent with his average when he was 27 (20:53) and entering his prime years.
Considering that he is not getting any younger and that this decision was made just to get more rest and not due to any injury, you have to wonder if we have seen the last of Ovechkin at the All-Star game.
“I’m healthy, thank God, and I just made this decision because I have to be in good shape and I have to be ready and good in the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “The most important thing is not the regular year, it’s the playoffs.”
“It's the right thing for him at age 34 to rest and get ready for what he ultimately wants and that's another run at the Cup,” Reirden said. “That's what he's playing the game for now.”
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