The NHL doesn’t want its All-Star game to turn into the NFL’s Pro Bowl, a lame affair in which many of the players chosen for the game skip it due to injuries — real, imagined or not yet known to modern medicine.
The league doesn’t want its game to be a farce, even though by definition all All-Star games are farces.
That’s the main reason the NHL decided to hand a one-game suspension to any player who sits out its carnival event for any reason. It’s why Jonathan Toews will miss the Blackhawks’ first game after the All-Star break. He stayed home from Sunday’s All-Star game, reportedly because of illness.
Hawks fans have been in an uproar about the punishment, but why anyone is surprised about the suspension is a bigger surprise. The NHL doesn’t believe in injuries. Hockey players play hurt. It’s a given. It’s a badge of honor. So, in the weird, hidebound world of the NHL, the All-Star mandatory attendance rule is actually consistent.
This is a league that encourages teams to hide injuries by allowing them to publicly describe physical problems in the vaguest terms. A strained quadriceps muscle is called a lower-body injury. A broken finger is called an upper-body injury. So, too, is a decapitated head.
There’s built-in secrecy everywhere in the NHL. Nobody in one locker room trusts anybody else in another locker room. Tradition being what it is in hockey, this dates back to the Pleistocene epoch. If Toews has a note from his team doctor saying that he’s too sick to play, there are probably two strains of thoughts going through the hockey world: 1) He must really be sick because what hockey player wants to miss a game? and 2) Who would trust a team doctor?
If the league turns a blind eye to injuries as a matter of pride and policy, why should anyone be shocked that it would come down hard on a player who sits out a silly All-Star game because of illness?