NHL

KELLEY: Hull a conspicuous All-Star omission

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA.

If you want to zoom in on the many contradictions that make up the National Hockey League today, focus on this. The league presents its All-Star extravaganza here this weekend and isn¿t here. Yeah, that , son of Bobby Hull. , NHL legend, possessor of one of the quickest and most accurate shots in the game. , the two-time Stanley Cup winner and the man on the cusp of one of the greatest achievements in the game, 700 goals (he has 699). Hull is, arguably, the most famous player in the game today — OK, that honor should go to , but for purposes of this column, players who happen to be owners don¿t count and besides, he¿s not here either — yet Hull isn¿t here. He¿s not hurt. He¿s just not here. And therein lies the contradiction that annually makes this event among the more entertaining yet erratic All-Star games in professional sports. Hull isn¿t here because no one asked him to come here. Yet players like Toronto stars and begged off because of injuries, despite the fact they played for the Leafs Thursday night at Carolina. It¿s semi-understandable that Lemieux took a pass (groin injury) and New York Ranger defenseman couldn¿t make it (serious ankle injury), but Sundin and Belfour obviously were healthy enough to play a tough, physical, demanding regular-season contest, but not healthy enough to skate through a meaningless exhibition games where physical checks are as rubbery as the kind the bankrupt Ottawa have received of late. Now you can make a case for Hull not having an All-Star season up to this point. He has just 20 goals and a somewhat paltry 19 assists at the 52-game mark. That¿s not exactly Wayne Gretzky-like in terms of overall production, but Lemieux was voted a starter on the Eastern squad, leads the league in scoring with 68 points and he¿s scored just 20 goals this season. Worse, Calgary¿s is here and he has just 15 goals on the season and fewer points than Hull (36 to Hull¿s 39) and he¿s a minus-16 to Hull¿s plus-three. And it¿s not as if the fans didn¿t want him here. Hull finished third among wingers in the Western Conference fan balloting behind only of Dallas and of San Jose. He finished well ahead of Anaheim¿s , and of Vancouver, Iginla, Marion Gaborik of Minnesota, of St. Louis and of Columbus, all of whom are here. Make¿s you think that either Hull didn¿t want to come — a possibility given the number of high-profile performers who now regularly pull the chute on this gathering — or that the NHL didn¿t want him here. And therein lies the contradiction. Like a lot of sports leagues, the NHL is generally not viewed as an open society. It should also be noted that Hull is not generally viewed by the NHL, or anyone else for that matter, as a safe interview. He is a man who speaks his mind and whatever is on it. It¿s likely no small coincidence that his absence comes at a time when he has been speaking out regarding what he believes is wrong with the game at the same time that the NHL has never been more sensitive to criticism. In recent weeks Hull has been quoted as saying the game ¿stinks¿. He¿s also ragged on the game¿s now near insufferable lack of scoring. He thinks the officiating is weak, the crackdown on obstruction and interference doesn¿t work and never did and the two-referee system is a failure. In Hull¿s hockey world the goalies are too well protected, the league should allow for all kinds of ways to open up scoring and robotic hockey, a favorite tactic of today¿s hockey coaches, makes the game about as enjoyable as soccer without a ball. Hull says he wants no more points for overtime losses. He wants financial supports for Canadian teams and, to show that he¿s not just all about players, he told The Hockey News recently that ¿salaries have risen to a point where we (the players) should be satisfied.¿ That¿s a declaration that is certainly not to win him any fans in the player ranks, in the executive offices of the NHL Player¿s Association and maybe in the Detroit locker room. And that brings us back to the two-fold problem of the All-Star weekend. Proponents of the game argue that critics should shut up already. That the built-in problems that come from the sometimes awkward fan balloting procedures, the overall lack of hitting and defense and the sometimes clumsy attempts to create a hype over East vs. West or World vs. North America roster formats really don¿t matter if you take the game for what it is and for what it was meant to be; entertainment. Yet at the same time, the most entertaining players — and Sundin, Belfour, Leetch, Lemieux and are certainly among them — keep inventing ways not to come while players like Hull — on the edge of joining the most rarified status in NHL history, the 700 goals club — are not invited. It makes for a contradiction that even some of the players that are here can¿t handle. "There are a lot of guys who are obviously very deserving to be here in my place,¿ said Iginla said upon his arrival here. ¿Every year, I suppose, there are players who feel like I do — they look around and see other guys with more goals, who have things going better for them.¿ It¿s not even that you can¿t make a case for Iginla being here. He¿s having a poor season, but it¿s not an absolutely awful season and he was, after all, the leading goal scorer and the leading point getter in the NHL last season. He won the Lester Pearson award as league MVP as voted on by the players. He does have skill, name value and star power. But then Montreal goaltender , who¿s had a pretty much awful season so far, won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and he¿s not here so it just can¿t be an issue of poor stats. Which lead us to ask one simple question. Who did the bigger disservice to the game this weekend, who wants the game to be better and doesn¿t mind telling people about, it or the healthy players who called in sick? Maybe free speech isn¿t as bad as some people think. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address, jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Flames, Red Wings, Stars, Canadiens, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Sharks, Blues, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Ducks, Blue Jackets, Bill Guerin, Brett Hull, Ed Belfour, Jose Theodore, Saku Koivu, Doug Weight, Mats Sundin, Markus Naslund, Paul Kariya, Ray Whitney, Jarome Iginla

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