NHL All-Star Game: Crosby mends fences with league's top brass

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MONTREAL -- Cameras rolled, shutters snapped as Sidney Crosby stepped up to a podium and spent 5 minutes, 39 seconds answering questions from reporters yesterday at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Apparently, that brief appearance by the Penguins' captain was enough to appease the NHL and quell a controversy surrounding its most highly promoted player.

At issue was the fact that Crosby played in two games after his left knee was injured Jan. 16, then pulled out of the SuperSkills competition tonight and the All-Star Game tomorrow night.

Under a new NHL policy, players who skip the All-Star activities when they have not missed immediately previous games because of injury are subject to a one-game suspension. Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk reportedly will miss the Red Wings' game Tuesday after electing not to participate this weekend.

  • NHL All-Star Game: Eastern Conference All-Stars vs. Western Conference All-Stars, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Bell Centre, Montreal.
  • TV: Versus.

NHL officials, including commissioner Gary Bettman, became concerned and perhaps angry when Crosby -- who is second in the league with 60 points and was voted a starter by a record 1.7 million fans -- decided Thursday he would follow the advice of team physician Charles Burke and sit out the on-ice All-Star weekend events. The league announced Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis as Crosby's replacement for the game without first notifying the Penguins.

Crosby called Bettman to smooth things.

"My plan was to come here from the moment I decided I couldn't play because of injury," Crosby said at his news conference, which came at the end of a gathering of All-Star players and reporters.

"I had a talk with Gary Bettman this week in the capacity of letting him know I was going to be here, but I still want the focus to be on the guys who are playing. I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm not here playing like I'd like to be, but it's the second-best thing and I'm happy to be here."

Crosby, who went home to Nova Scotia after the Penguins' final game before the break, a 2-1 loss Tuesday to Carolina, planned to come to Montreal today and tomorrow.

There are team practices today, the SuperSkills competition tonight and the All-Star Game tomorrow night. He was told he needed to be here yesterday, perhaps otherwise facing a one-game suspension.

"This is something I wasn't totally aware of," Crosby said of the event yesterday, "but it's fine. It's a part of the game, and I'm more than happy to be here."

It's unusual for injured players to attend the All-Star activities.

An NHL spokesman said Bettman would not be available for comment until a scheduled news conference today after a league Board of Governors meeting.

The 2009 All-Star Game is particularly important to the NHL because it's a celebration of 100 years of hockey in Montreal, one of the most hallowed cities connected to the sport.

Crosby is in his fourth NHL season but has played in just one All-Star Game. There wasn't one in 2006 during his rookie season because of the Winter Olympics. He played in Dallas in 2007 but did not have a point. Last year, he sat out because of a high ankle sprain.

There won't be another NHL All-Star Game until 2011 because of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Crosby was asked if he supports the rule concerning one-game suspensions.

"It's tough. There are always different scenarios," he said. "With some guys, it's due to rest. In my case, there was an injury. There's nothing I can really do with that.

"The standard for [the policy] is more toward making sure guys realize how important it is. We all have the honor of playing in the league, and some of us get the opportunity to come here. That's something that's well understood."

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, also voted a starter, said he had heard the NHL was upset that Crosby isn't playing -- "Sid is the face of the NHL," he said â€" and also is disappointed, although he understands the reason.

"It's my teammate and a great player and a good guy," Malkin said. "If I played with him, I would enjoy the game [more]."

Chicago Blackhawks All-Star Patrick Kane, one of many young players who are shaping the 21st-century NHL, said the league can spotlight others this weekend.

"He's probably the face of the NHL right now, so he's obviously missed in the game," Kane said of Crosby. "But at the same time it's good for other players to step up and show their face and show what the NHL is all about, try to get more fans interested in the game and more fans interested in different players."

Crosby grew up a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, and this is the second time he has missed an All-Star Game here because of injury. The first was when an ankle injury sidelined him when he played junior hockey in Rimouski, Quebec.

The Penguins' next game is Wednesday at home against the New York Rangers. They resume practicing Monday and face a tough final 10 weeks as they try to climb into the playoff picture.

"Hopefully, these five days of not doing anything will give me a chance to get back as close to 100 percent as I can," Crosby said.

"Whether that's the case, I'll find out when I start skating again. I think this is something that will give me the best chance.

"This weekend, I'll try to be involved in everything but the actual events themselves. The game is for the players that are playing in it, but I'll try to do as much as I can."

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721. First Published January 24, 2009 5:00 AM


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