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Weekend wrap: Plans for All-Star subs, options for Isles/Nabby, '99' on hits to head

VANCOUVER -- There are three current All-Star players sidelined by injury and the clock is ticking with the game less than a week away in Raleigh.

What to do if you're the NHL?

Instead of pressuring Ales Hemsky (concussion), Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (lower body) into a decision any day now, I'm told the NHL has decided to allow those three players all the time they need right up to All-Star weekend.

Why? Because the league will replace any injured All-Star from the pool of rookies already attending the skills event. I think this is an absolutely brilliant solution.

In previous years, it was a nightmare for the league to try to find a replacement so close to the event because players had already made plans with their families or friends for the break. Choosing from rookies already making the trip to Raleigh makes total sense.

As of Saturday, the league was kicking around how the rookies would be chosen for the game. Would they be part of Friday's fantasy draft, or would the rookies win their way into the game by excelling in Saturday night's skills event? Both are interesting ideas.

I know, I know ... I'm on record as hating the All-Star Game. But I give the league credit for being creative this year.

Nabokov's future

Unless Islanders GM Garth Snow can persuade Evgeni Nabokov to have a change of heart, the Russian netminder has decided he doesn't want to report to Long Island.

So, what are the Islanders' options if Nabokov doesn't report? Here we go:

• They can suspend Nabokov for not reporting to the team.

• They can go to the NHL and say they want to trade Nabokov, but two things have to happen for any trade to happen: Nabokov would have to waive his no-movement clause and the Isles would have to put him back on the waiver wires, as stated in section 13.23 of the CBA. Only teams that put in an initial waiver claim for Nabokov this past Friday/Saturday would have access to the goalie during this waiver period.

• If he clears waivers again, all 29 teams would get to participate in a second waiver-wire process. The team that sits lowest in the standings has first priority here if multiple teams put in claims.

• If he were to clear waivers a third time (this is highly, highly unlikely), the Islanders would then be able to trade the netminder.

TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Saturday that another possiblity is the Isles could suspend Nabokov for rest of season and then argue to NHL that the goalie owes them the full one-year, $570,000 contract next season, citing the Alexei Yashin precedent in Ottawa.

The waiver rule

With Nabokov joining Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood as players claimed away from teams who did the work to sign them, some clubs are wondering whether Section 13.23 of the CBA needs revisiting. Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com on Saturday he's going to table a discussion at the GMs meeting in March to ask that very question. The purpose of the rule is to prevent teams from adding "ringers" late in the season and gaining an unfair advantage.

Hits to the head

With Crosby's concussion reigniting the hits-to-the-head discussion, the issue will again headline/dominate the GMs meetings, league sources confirmed Saturday. The question they will ask is whether Rule 48 is doing its job or whether it needs to ban more types of hits. Should be quite the discussion.

I interviewed Wayne Gretzky earlier this week for a story that will run on his 50th birthday Wednesday, but wanted to pass on what he said about the hits debate.

"The good thing is, 30 years ago when we got hit like that, you came in and you said you were feeling kind of woozy and they would tell you, 'Get on the ice and skate through it,'" Gretzky said half-jokingly. "Then, if you had a couple of bad games, they would haul in the office and ask you, 'What's wrong?' So you know, we've come a long way.

"I think in today's game, people are on top of it," added Gretzky. "If there is an issue, they're not making knee-jerk decisions. They study it, they check into it. They really look into how they can help these players. It's hard, it's a fine line. It's just a bigger game now. I don't know how we can continuously look to protect the player without taking the physical aspect out of the game.

"I watch football games and I don't know how some of these guys survive because it's so physical. ... I think both hockey and football are always analyzing this and trying to figure out a way to keep the players from concussions. The good news is the NHL really is on top of it. But it's probably going to continue to be an even bigger issue because the players are going to get bigger and stronger."

This and that

• Kings GM Dean Lombardi told me Friday he's solidly behind Terry Murray as coach. Won't be a change there, he said.

Peter Forsberg would not have to clear waivers if/when he signs with the Avs because he didn't play a game overseas this season.

• Spoke with injured Canucks blueliner Sami Salo on Friday. He says his Achilles' heel is healed, but it's building up muscle in the same leg that's the issue. It's taking a while to do that. He hasn't had any setbacks since he began skating, but he said he really doesn't know when he'll be ready to return. Once he's cleared, the Canucks will have a cap crunch and will need to move a player.

• Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and veteran agent Don Meehan are slated to resume contract talks for Steven Stamkos on Monday in Tampa.

• A "Happy Birthday" note to big-time agent Pat Brisson, who turned 46 on Saturday. Not sure if it's because of his vegan diet, but he doesn't look a day over 36.