ATLANTA -- The show will have to go on without the NHL's biggest star.
But all-star weekend won't be the same without Sidney Crosby, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week that could keep him out eight weeks and kill any chance his Penguins have of making the playoffs.
Sid the Kid's absence at tomorrow's skills competition, which features a shootout, and Sunday's game hurts even more in Atlanta, where the league desperately needs exposure.
Crosby isn't the only star who will be missed. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur suddenly pulled out last week, Senators winger Dany Heatley is out with a shoulder injury, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg is nursing a sore back and Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo is with his wife, who is about to give birth.
Even league officials admit the celebration won't the be same without Crosby.
"Obviously, he's the marquee guy in the league," said Senators president Roy Mlakar. "He leads the league in endorsements, he was the star of the outdoor game that got us significant ratings on U.S. television. He's been branded as the 'Next One.'
"Any time you have the marquee event of the season and you have don't have names like Crosby, Brodeur, Heatley and Luongo, it's going to effect the number of eyeballs that are paying attention.
"In turn, that's going to effect the league."
Commissioner Gary Bettman is trying to grow the game in the U.S.; the Winter Classic held New Year's Day outdoors at Rich Stadium went a long way.
That's why these all-star festivities are being held on the weekend before the Super Bowl. The NHL is convinced it will have a captive audience.
It would help if Crosby was on the ice.
"The league does a lot to promote Sidney Crosby and he would have been a big part of the weekend)," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, who is looking forward to his first all-star game. "It's going to be a little disappointing not having him around."
Disappointing for fans, too.
"It hurts the all-star game," said TSN analyst Pierre McGuire. "(Crosby) is one of the most recognizable athletes in North America. He brings cachet and professionalism to any event he is part of. His skill level and desire to try new moves on the ice will surely be missed."
As Spezza noted, there will still be plenty of top players in action. "Injuries happen, but the game must go on."
LUMP OF COLE
Talk won't go away that the Hurricanes are going to move RW Erik Cole before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. There's talk in NHL circles that Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford would like to shake up things and shed Cole's $4-million salary for next year. The Senators are interested, but GM Bryan Murray would have a tough time taking on that salary. Talk is the Hurricanes are coveting a pair of Senators -- LW Antoine Vermette to help cure their penalty killing woes, and D Joe Corvo. The Hurricanes would likely send Cole out of the Eastern Conference. The Canucks, Predators, Flames and Stars have all been looking for help.