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The NHL suspends players who skip the All-Star Game and that’s perfectly fine

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Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews will skip the All-Star Game, and NHL rules say that they'll have to sit out a regular season game as a result. It's a rule that makes total sense.

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Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews will miss the 2016 All-Star Game with minor injuries. Toews is sick with the flu (or something like that), and Ovechkin has an undisclosed "lower-body" injury.

You might think that these last-second defections exist purely because the players don't want to go to the game. I don't think that's the case here, specifically.

Ovechkin is an amazing ambassador for the NHL, and he's always been one of the players who has the most fun at All-Star weekend. Whether it's getting drunk and goofing off at the All-Star Draft last year, or his pure glee at teammate Nicklas Backstrom's All-Star selection this year, or his performance in Montreal in 2009 ...

... Ovi has always shown nothing but love for the All-Star Game.

As for Toews, look at him on the bench during Chicago's last game before the break. Zoom in on his face; the guy with the 'C' on his sweater next to Coach Joel Quenneville:

That's the face of a man who is ill while trying to play professional hockey. And he left in the third period of that game and didn't return.

So yeah, I'd put money down that these guys are legitimately hurt and think the rest over the All-Star break is important enough to miss the game. But ah, there's the catch:

Per League rules, a player who is named to the NHL All-Star Game and does not participate shall be suspended for one regular-season game – either the game immediately preceding or following the NHL All-Star Game. Ovechkin will miss the Capitals’ game on Feb. 2 against the Florida Panthers, while Toews will miss the Blackhawks’ game on Feb. 2 at the Colorado Avalanche.

Many think this rule is dumb, and you can't blame them for thinking that. Why punish players (and their teams) who are legitimately hurt or ill and can't partake in All-Star events?

But in order to fully understand why the NHL has this rule in place, you need to look no further than the NFL's All-Star equivalent -- the Pro Bowl.

Look at this nonsense133 players have been invited to the 2016 Pro Bowl in total. 86 of those were original invites. That means that 47 players -- over half of the original list! -- declined their invitations, requiring alternates. Players who are set to play in the Super Bowl are exempt, but that list is only 14 deep. So 33 players are either injured or just flat out don't want a free trip to Hawaii.

The result? A game without Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. They were replaced by Jameis Winston, Eli Manning, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. lolololol

Now imagine if that happened in the NHL. Hockey injuries are already vague and suspicious enough, with the common "lower body" and "upper body" terminology that could mean anything. You can easily imagine a world where players make up minor ailments just before the All-Star break in an event to skip the game and go to Cabo or whatever.

The league needs incentive for its players to be there.

But what if you're of the opinion that the All-Star Game is stupid and a waste of time? Suspending players from meaningful games or an event that doesn't even matter! Typical NHL, right?

That's the cool opinion these days, but those people -- including most of the hockey media -- are missing the entire point. As I wrote after last year's game in Columbus, there is a ton of value in doing this every year; value that's not measurable in sponsorship dollars or TV ratings.

It's about the long lines of awe-struck kids and their smiling parents, waiting 10 and 20 and 30 and 60 and 100 minutes just for a 20-second interaction with Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen, or any of the other All-Star players. It's about the lines of adults and kids alike waiting even longer just for a quick picture with the Stanley Cup. It's about the wrestling match I saw between the Ducks and Lightning mascots on the Nationwide Arena concourse Sunday, and the little kid who begged Stinger, the local hero and mascot of the Blue Jackets, to jump in there and show 'em who's boss. ... Think of the lifelong hockey fans who were made at the FanFair this week.

It's a valuable event for a lot of reasons we don't see on TV, and it's not going anywhere. But it only works if the majority of the league's top players are there. The NFL has proven it doesn't have any recourse in forcing its best players to go to its game, but the NHL does as a result of this suspension rule.

So yeah, Jonathan Toews and Alex Ovechkin will miss one regular season game out of 82 because of that rule. Some people are going to be pissed off about that, but let's be real -- the Capitals or Blackhawks will not be impacted by that one game in the long run. And the NHL All-Star Game is better because the rule is there.

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