Sunday, 16 March 2008

An NHL Gift Basket

Occasionally, I am quite disgusted with the NHL. It seems that Colin Campbell, head disciplinarian for the NHL, subscribes to the adage of "different strokes for different folks". He claims to uphold the NHL rulebook to its highest level, but he has a hard time doing it when he has no backbone. If he did have one, he would have punished Chris Pronger for more than an eight-game suspension after reviewing, for the second time, his blatent and obvious stomp on Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler. Instead, Pronger takes a couple of weeks off to rest up for the playoffs where he can deliver additional elbows to the heads of skilled forwards. After all, that's what all-star NHL defencemen do in the playoffs - they become Neanderthals.

Yes, you may have guessed that I don't like Chris Pronger. At one time, he appeared to be one of the great young stars this league had to offer. He had a booming shot, and he played defence as well as anyone in the league. However, he also began developing a penchant for headshots, and started tarnishing his play with cheap shots to anyone who skated within six feet of him in an opposing team's jersey.

Let's review his rap sheet for a moment:

- Pronger was arrested for drunk driving and being involved in a barroom brawl during his first season with the Hartford Whalers (1993-94 offseason).

- Suspended four games for slashing Washington's Pat Peake while with St. Louis (Oct. 29, 1995).

- Suspended four games for a high-stick to Phoenix's Jeremy Roenick while with St. Louis (Dec. 17, 1998).

- Suspended one game for leaving the bench to engage with Los Angeles' Kelly Buchberger during an on-ice incident while with St. Louis (Oct. 11, 2000).

- Suspended two games for a crosscheck to Dallas' Brendan Morrow while with St. Louis (April 3, 2002).

- Suspended one game for kicking Calgary's Ville Niemenen while with St. Louis (March 14, 2004).

- Suspended one playoff game for a deliberate blow to the head to Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom while with Anaheim (May 15, 2007).

- Suspended one playoff game for a deliberate blow to the head to Ottawa's Dean McAmmond while with Anaheim (June 3, 2007).

- Suspended eight games for stomping on the leg of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler with his skate blade while with Anaheim (Mar. 15, 2008).

I find it ironic that Chris Simon, currently the poster child for NHL suspensions, and Chris Pronger not only share a first name, but have served time in NHL purgatory for similar incidents. The only difference is that Simon seems to draw the harsher penalties despite his rap sheet only have eight offences on it as well.

What gives?

Simon's rap sheets reads as follows:

- Thirty game suspension for stomping on the leg of Jarkko Ruutu in 2007.

- Twenty-five game suspension for a deliberate slash to the head of Ryan Hollweg in 2006.

-Five pre-season games in 1994 for slashing Dennis Vial in the head.

-Three games in 1997 after directing a racial slur toward player Mike Grier, who is black.

-One game in the 2000 playoffs after cross-checking Peter Popovic across the throat.

-In April 2001, Simon drew a two-game ban for elbowing Anders Eriksson.

-Two games in 2004 for cross-checking Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumping on him and punching him.

-Two games, also in 2004, for kneeing star defenceman Sergei Zubov.

Total number of games missed in his career for Pronger: 22.
Total number of games missed in his career for Simon: 70.

Does anyone see a problem here? Isn't discipline supposed to turn a blind eye to the player, and focus on the infraction instead? Both players have used their sticks in several ugly incidents, both players have taken liberties with other players' careers by targeting their heads, and both players have attempted to injure players by stepping on them with their skates.

I'm sure that the Chris Pronger supporters out there will point to Colin Campbell's reasoning of "[i]n attempting to free himself, Pronger carelessly and recklessly brought his foot down". However, the video says more than that. Let's take a look:

The problem is that Chris Simon never looked at Jarkko Ruutu's leg while stomping his either. Pronger, in the video, clearly knows where Kesler's legs are. To say he didn't would be a blatent lie. While TSN's Jennifer Hedger is correct in stating that it is "almost impossible to prove Pronger's intent", it is clear to me that he is looking down before he turns and throws the stomp on Kesler.

How similar is it to the Simon incident? Take a look:

Different strokes for different folks? I'm saying yes.

Sorry, Colin Campbell. If you want respect from the players, you're going to have to start doing your job. Just because he's a superstar and Brian Burke is a colleague doesn't mean you change the rules. A stomp is a stomp is a stomp.

The rules state that players must remain in control of their sticks. Why is it that players don't have the same policy placed on those razor-sharp blades? It's time for the NHL Offices to start showing the players that this kind of action won't be tolerated. I don't know what it will take for the NHL to wise up, but why they are waiting until someone is seriously injured or killed is beyond me.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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