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Netcrashing - Do players have a right to say no to Canada?

Jamie Bell - TSN.ca Staff

5/14/2010 1:15:52 PM

While many athletes say that there is no greater honour than to represent your nation at the highest level, it appears as though many Canadian hockey players don't subscribe to that notion.

Judging from the early feedback in 'Your Calls' on the story, it would appear that many hockey fans in this country are extremely upset by the news that Sidney Crosby has declined an offer to join Canada in Germany for the IIHF World Championship.

But is this reaction fair?

While putting together a roster for the IIHF World Hockey Championship is generally difficult at the best of times, general manager Mark Messier faced an even more daunting task this spring.

With it being an Olympic year, the Moose faced the unenviable task of trying to recruit players who already worn the Maple Leaf in March; felt snubbed by their Olympic omission or were likely never considered for participation in the first place.

When players like Martin St. Louis and Dion Phaneuf declined the Worlds, Messier turned to future stars that have represented Canada in the past like Steven Stamkos, Matt Duchene and John Tavares to comprise the meat of Canada's roster.  When others like Drew Doughty were unable to accept invitations due to injuries, Messier was also forced to turn towards role players - who jumped at the opportunity to skate for Canada for the first time.

While it is undoubtedly the honour of a lifetime for the Kyle Cumiskeys and Chad Johnsons of the world, the question remains is - what do star players with a Canadian passport owe to Hockey Canada?

Consider the fact that Crosby has played 94 of 95 games that the Penguins have contested in the past calendar year, as well as seven games during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver - it can certainly be argued that 'Sid the Kid' has earned some rest. 

The other school of thought is that Crosby was Canada's assistant captain and unquestioned leader at the Olympics and therefore he owes it to the national program to represent his country whenever they come calling.  The Anaheim Ducks' Corey Perry took the call - the lone gold medalist at the past Olympics to do so.

What about the players who were on the Olympic bubble?  While veterans such as Ryan Smyth and Francois Beauchemin accepted the invitation, others like Phaneuf and St. Louis said no.
 
There is little doubt that both of these players would have immediately agreed to an invitation to a so-called "first tier" competition such as the Olympics or the World Cup; they seemingly have no qualms about declining an offer to play at the Worlds.  Do they have the right to say no to Messier. And if so, should this affect any future involvement with the national program?

Although it might be a slightly outdated notion, consider this - in international soccer, to represent ones nation is the equivalent of military duty.  If you cannot settle scores on the field of battle, you try to do it on the field of play.  Also, once a player declines an invitation to play for his country, his future in international competition is generally over!

The problem is certainly compounded by the timing and location of the tournament.  The World Championship is played when most players are either licking their wounds from missing the NHL playoffs or coming off a premature post-season exit.  Pair that with the fact that the tournament is generally played in Europe (only twice has it been held in North America) and you can certainly understand why many players undoubtedly choose to enjoy a kicking back at a cottage somewhere in rural Canada. 

The declined invitations could certainly look worse in the eyes of fans when one peruses the Russian roster that sports such superstars as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.  It must be noted that most European players were raised with the notion that the World Championship was the premier hockey tournament. Also, most of these players head back to Europe during the summer months to spend time with their families.  In addition, you can understand that Russia's stacked roster has a lot to do with saving face following an embarrassing Olympic debacle.

While it is very easy for the general public to make the argument that these players are highly paid professionals who should be honoured to play for Canada, you have to consider the fact that these players are not financially compensated for their service.  Look at it this way:  You work hard all year in a shoe factory and are rewarded with two weeks of holidays.  When the time comes for some time off, would you go work in a different shoe factory half way around the world for no money?

So our question for this edition of Netcrashing is this:  "Do players have the right to decline invitations from the national program without repercussions or should they represent their country any time that they are asked to do so?"

Let your opinions be know in our 'Your Call' feature below.