- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2012

OTTAWA — As a suspended player, Alex Ovechkin didn’t want to be a distraction at NHL All-Star weekend. He succeeded in avoiding that role and the bevy of questions that would have inevitably come with his appearance in Ottawa, but that didn’t mean his absence wasn’t a topic of conversation.

Most players brushed off the importance of Ovechkin pulling out, but Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen voiced opposition to the Washington Capitals star’s choice.

“I always think this is kind of your personal choice, but for the fans, I don’t think it’s right. Still, the fans are the ones who pay our salary and that kind of stuff,” Timonen said. “They wanted to see him; he’s one of the best players in the world. At the same time, it’s been a long season for him and maybe he’s got tiny injury or something. But as a fan, I wanted to see him here.”

Ovechkin wasn’t voted in by the fans, but he’s undoubtedly one of the most popular players in the world, locally and internationally. James Neal, his All-Star replacement, has a lot of goals (27) but hardly the star power of the Caps’ captain.

Timonen’s comments were nothing like those of St. Louis Blues forward Andy McDonald, who called Ovechkin “classless” for skipping the event. Most All-Stars side-stepped questions about Ovechkin, essentially saying it wasn’t their call.

Pavel Datsyuk did not want to address Ovechkin specifically but was surprised at the idea of younger players not wanting to be at All-Star weekend.

“I don’t know any player [who] don’t want to go there,” the Red Wings forward said. “I think it’s every player want to go there. It’s fun, and I’m more happy for them to be there.”

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn has missed the last five games after undergoing an emergency appendectomy but made it to Ottawa nonetheless. He didn’t want to comment much on Ovechkin.

“It’s up to him. It’s his personal thing to come or not,” he said. “I don’t have much to say about that.”

That was the prevailing opinion, with guys like Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell, Rangers forward Marian Gaborik and Ducks forward Corey Perry saying it didn’t bother them.

“It’s his own choice. He was suspended, so he didn’t feel like he should be part of it, which is fine,” Gaborik said. “It’s his decision. I support it.”

Caps general manager George McPhee supported Ovechkin’s decision, too, noting that his captain shouldn’t go if his heart isn’t in it.

Add Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard to the list of players in favor of Ovechkin not being there, though for a more light-hearted reason.

“I don’t have to worry about that cannon coming down over the blue line and letting one go,” Howard said. “For a goalie, it’s a little bit of a sigh of relief.”