|Kovalchuk, DiPietro, Osgood, Nash chosen as All-Star starting replacements|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 26 January 2008 16:18|
Just days after receiving a one-game suspension for an illegal check from behind, Kovalchuk was upgraded to the Eastern Conference starting lineup Saturday for the game played in his home arena.
Kovalchuk, of the host Atlanta Thrashers, took the spot of injured Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, forced out of the event by a high ankle sprain. The 24-year-old left wing is second in the league with 37 goals and fourth in points (63).
He will start on a forward line with NHL scoring leader Daniel Alfredsson of Ottawa and Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier. Rick DiPietro was chosen Saturday to be in goal for the East in the first period, replacing New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who pulled out after winning the fan balloting.
Kovalchuk became the first player to reach 30 goals before New Year's Day since Jaromir Jagr did it for Pittsburgh during the 1999-2000 season.
On the West side, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock tapped his goalie Chris Osgood for the starting assignment. He replaces Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, who is skipping the game to spend time with his pregnant wife in Florida.
Columbus forward Rick Nash also joined the West starting lineup Saturday, filling in for injured Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings. Nash will play alongside Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Calgary captain Jarome Iginla.
HOSSA IS HOME FOR NOW: Marian Hossa is determined to enjoy his fourth All-Star game - and first on his home ice.
Still, Hossa couldn't avoid questions Saturday about how long Atlanta will be his hockey home.
Hossa is facing free agency and already has turned down the Thrashers' offer for a four-year deal worth $28 million.
If no agreement can be reached, Hossa could be one of the more attractive players available before next month's NHL trade deadline. He says he wants to stay with Atlanta, but adds he also wants to play for a winning team.
There's the rub. The inconsistent Thrashers are only two points out of first place in the Southeast Division, but they're two games under .500.
``It's not about money,'' Hossa said Saturday. ``I just want to make sure I do the right decision. When I sign for long term, I don't want to sign and then we're not winning.''
Thrashers general manager and interim coach Don Waddell says his team will be buyers, not sellers, as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches.
Waddell said he will make another offer to Hossa.
``I wish he wasn't in his last year of his contract,'' Waddell said Friday before making mention of Washington star Alex Ovechkin's 13-year extension worth an NHL-record $124 million.
``I think in today's day with the salary cap, can you have two or three guys under those kind of contracts?'' Waddell asked. ``Probably not. But certainly lock up your best player for long-term, I don't see a problem with it.''
Hossa said talks between his agent, Ritch Winter, and Waddell are ongoing.
``They have been talking and talking and hopefully after the All-Star break in a few days something is going to be happening,'' Hossa said.
``I really hope so because I like this city. My priority here is to have fun for two days and try not to think about the contract. I've been in a few All-Star games but never at home. This is going to be something special.''
TOP DUCK: Scott Niedermayer isn't kidding himself. He knows it took more than the two goals and nine assists he put up, so far, in his abbreviated season to make it back to the All-Star game.
Even though he's played only 19 games this season, the Anaheim Ducks defenseman was chosen for the Western Conference team after Dallas' Sergei Zubov withdrew due to a foot injury.
Niedermayer contemplated retirement after the Ducks won the Stanley Cup last season, but decided to return in December.
``When I came back, I thought pretty much I'd have this weekend off,'' the 34-year-old said. ``It was a surprise to come, but at the same time I'm excited to get a chance to come back. I don't think it really reflects much maybe on my 19 games as maybe sort of my career.
``I think they probably took that into consideration.''
MORE GAMES: The grueling NHL schedule could get even longer if the Players' Association has its way.
The union has suggested increasing the number of games from 82 to 84, as long as it comes with a decrease in the length of the preseason schedule.
The Board of Governors discussed the matter at its meeting Saturday in Atlanta, but isn't ready to put it to a vote, commissioner Gary Bettman said.
``The issue is way too embryonic to be considered by the board,'' he said. ``But it's something we'll continue to talk with the Players' Association about.''
Bettman said the league already has obligations for next season, including plans to open the season in two European cities on Oct. 4 and 5. There's also the matter of determining how long the preseason schedule should be; this season, some teams played as many as nine exhibition games.
``It's just better that we start the season right away instead of playing like eight or nine exhibition games,'' Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier said. ``The guys now, once they arrive at camp, they're ready to go.''
Indeed, most players at the All-Star game seemed to support the idea, especially if it increases the number of inter-conference games. The NHL schedule tilts heavily toward division games, though there will be a change next year that has every team facing each other at least once.
``I like the idea of playing every team in every city,'' said Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff, whose team made a rare visit to Atlanta this month.
``It's unfair for fans in Edmonton to have to wait two or three years or longer to see (Sidney) Crosby or (Ilya) Kovalchuk. Fans would get a chance to see every team every year. That's how you grow the game.''
WINTER CLASSIC REDUX: The NHL would love a repeat of the ``Winter Classic.'' Then again, the league doesn't want to overdo it.
The New Year's Day game in Buffalo was a huge success, drawing more than 70,000 fans to an outdoor football stadium and some of the NHL's best television ratings in years. The snowy conditions only added to the aura of Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout win over the Sabres.
``A lot of teams have approached us,'' commissioner Gary Bettman said. ``We don't want to do too many. We want it to be special, because that was a very special day.''
He said the league learned some valuable lessons from the Buffalo game, which was played just nine days after the Bills' NFL home season ended.
``I don't think we want to tempt fate as much as we did in terms of how time is left to build the rink,'' Bettman said.
AP Sports Writers Paul Newberry and Charles Odum contributed to this report.