James Neal To Replace Alex Ovechkin At ASG

The NHL announced the Pittsburgh forward will replace Ovechkin, one day after he opted out of the event.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

For the first time since 2006 the NHL All-Star Game will be without both Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby but while Crosby has been out with a concussion for practically an entire season, Ovechkin has opted out of the event.  With a free spot on the roster open, the league selected Crosby’s teammate James Neal to take Ovechkin’s place and participate in this weekend’s events in Ottawa.

After the league announced it was handing Ovechkin a three-game suspension for a hit to the head on Penguins forward Zybnek Michalek, the Washington Capitals’ captain gave a public statement that he would not be attending the events. 

"My heart is not there. I suspended, so why I have to go there?" Ovechkin told the Washington Times. "I love the game; it's great event. I'd love to be there, but I'm suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel I'm not deserving to be there right now. If I suspended, I have to be suspended. That's why I give up my roster [spot]."

Though he might be sincere in his statement, the way in which he phrased it comes across as though Ovechkin is just trying to stick it to the NHL – with the fans being collateral damage.  The All-Star Game is made for guys like Ovechkin, who have a bubbly personality and always appear to have fun, making him a big reason as to why fans tune into the not only the All-Star Game but the Skills Competition as well.  The league has already stated it will not fine Ovechkin.

Ovechkin’s replacement is a guy that many expected to make the roster when it was announced a few weeks ago.  His numbers this year – 27 goals (first on the team) and 47 points (second on the team) – are thanks in part to his linemate Evgeni Malkin who has probably been the best player in the league for the month of January.  Neal currently leads the NHL with 210 shots and is tied for the league lead in power-play goals with 13.

It will be the first All-Star appearance for the first-year Penguin, who is the fourth All-Star replacement.  He was completely deserving of it, though it’ll be tough to fill the shoes of Ovechkin, a player the NHL is surely not happy with the week.