MONTREAL (AP) -Sure there are lots of NHL stars in Montreal this weekend. It's the "All" part that is a bit misleading.
Injuries, family matters, and the desire to get a few days of rest in the middle of a grueling hockey season are certainly legitimate reasons for some to stay home when the opportunity presents itself. However, if the All-Star game is going to remain a viable spectacle in most seasons, the biggest names in the game need to show up.
Sidney Crosby got it half right on Friday when he arrived in Montreal to meet the media.
It was announced on Thursday that a knee injury would keep the NHL's most famous name and face out of Sunday's game - the second straight year he was forced to miss the contest - but in order to maintain his eligibility for the Pittsburgh Penguins' first game after the break, Crosby had to fulfill some in-person obligations during the weekend.
"My plan was to come here from the moment that I decided that I wasn't going to play due to injury," said Crosby, who received a record 1.7 million fan votes. "I had a talk with (commissioner) Gary Bettman as to the capacity of me being here.
"I obviously wanted to be here, but still want the focus to be on the guys that are here, too, and not the fact that I'm coming."
Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings also turned down their All-Star invitations, citing injuries, but they didn't make it to Montreal and now will sit out Tuesday when their club returns to action against Columbus.
Lidstrom, who is dealing with an ankle injury, and Datsyuk, bothered by a sore hip, were not suspended and will still be paid even though they will miss a game. Their absences leave Hockeytown's team with no representatives in Montreal as the host Canadiens continue to celebrate the franchise's 100th anniversary.
"I want to be here," said New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, a former Canadiens player. "Being an All-Star is something very special for me. I'm really proud of it and I am really enjoying it. It's not a matter of have to go, I want to be here."
The league's general managers made the decision a year ago to issue a bit of a punishment to those who skip the weekend. It came to pass after several players pulled out of the festivities in Atlanta.
It is not that anyone is questioning whether these players are actually hurt, it's a matter of justifying how they can play either right before the break or right after, but not be well enough to showcase their talents on this stage.
"That's their decision," Crosby said. "It's up to the player, up to the team to keep that in mind. For the All-Star game, it's important to get everyone involved in it and on board especially from the players. I don't see anything wrong with that as long as everyone is aware of the situation.
"That's something that guys have to deal with."
Lidstrom is being punished even though the 38-year-old Norris Trophy-winning defenseman has played in 10 All-Star games. Bettman wanted this rule enacted to protect the importance of the game.
"We've all got obligations to the fans, the rights-holders," NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell said. "This game is being televised around the world. I feel bad for Nicklas Lidstrom. He's been here how many years now? It's unfair that he gets caught in this web."
The reality is, the All-Star game is still for show. The winning team doesn't earn any advantage for the Eastern or Western Conference when the Stanley Cup is on the line, like baseball which hands out home-field advantage for the World Series to its All-Star winner.
If taking a few days of personal time will ultimately help a player and his team do better in the playoffs, then most feel it is a no-brainer to make that choice at the expense of an All-Star appearance.
For some, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Montreal goalie Carey Price just made it back into the Canadiens' lineup after a sprained ankle forced him to sit out eight games.
"I didn't want to miss this," said Price, a second-year player who was voted to start for the East. "This is one thing I really wanted to do the whole year. When I got hurt and I thought about missing this game, I was pretty heartbroken. But I was fortunate enough to have the right timing.
"This event has always been one of my favorite events growing up as a kid, and just having the honor to be on the ice will all these talented players is awesome."
None of the players who sat on risers Friday in a vast hotel ballroom were ready to take shots - the verbal kind - or question those who were missing.
"The only guys who can answer that are the guys that are hurt," said New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a first-time All-Star. "It's easy for other guys to say he's not hurt enough. I can only say I am really excited to be here.
"This is the All-Star game. Obviously you want the star players to play, but if they're hurt, they're hurt. There is nothing you can do about it. I don't think anybody else should comment."
That didn't stop the questions and some hemming and hawing with the answers.
Many seemed uncomfortable to pass judgment on others, even though they likely are dealing with their own aches and pains.
"You want to have the best players here, and hopefully everyone has that feeling, as well," said Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal, a three-time All-Star. "I enjoy being here. I love being a part of it. To be named is an honor and it's something that I will continue to keep coming to if they ask."