Hockey Headlines

Sunday, 8 December 2013

This Has Got To Stop

There seemingly was magic in the air the last night as hockey fans around North America anticipated an Eastern Conference Final match-up between the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams have had considerable success over the last number of years, and these games seem to ratchet up the tension between the perennial powerhouses. The problem was that the entire thing boiled over last night in a number of disgusting incidents. After talking about respect yesterday, let's beat that dead horse once more.

These two teams feature some tough individuals who play the game with an intent to win at all costs. Boston features Marchand, Thornton, Chara, Seidenberg, and a few others who enjoy playing he game with finesse and physical play, and while the Penguins admittedly aren't as physical, they do carry some guys who can mix it up in Orpik, Dupuis, Glass, and Engelland. What appeared to be a game between two of the most-talented teams in the Eastern Conference turned into a full-on game of one-upsmanship in the department of dirty play and questionable hits.

Let's start with the initial act that set the spark needed for this powder keg to explode. I'll break don each of the videos that followed, so let's get into this. And I will be recommending suspension lengths as I play the role of Brendan Shanahan.
Just eleven seconds into the game, Brooks Orpik caught Loui Eriksson with his head down in a prone position with a fairly clean check. Maybe the shoulder was high on Eriksson, but this is a fairly clean open-ice hit with no elbows and no targeting of the head. If anything, Eriksson's injury of a concussion most likely would have come from the impact with which his head hit the ice.

Watch the video again, and check out the hit. Eriksson's head didn't snap back from impact with Orpik, but he certainly didn't brace himself for hitting the ice. Having already suffered a concussion once this season that caused him to miss five games, Eriksson's brain was susceptible to taking another one. And sure enough, Eriksson has been diagnosed with a concussion today.

Whether it was Orpik's hit, the impact of his helmet hitting the ice, or both, the play made by Orpik isn't really worthy of a suspension. A minor penalty, maybe, but that check wasn't dirty.

What followed, however, was dirty and was malicious. In response to the check thrown by Orpik, Shawn Thornton engaged Orpik on their next shifts in an effort to draw Orpik into a fight. Orpik declined, and Thornton continued to pester him with no success. Again, I think Orpik's hit was clean, so I see no reason for Orpik to "pay the piper" or whatever cliché you want to use.

I will throw in that we'll look at James Neal's actions in a second because I'm pretty sure he deserves a suspension for his cowardly act, but let's keep moving forward with Thornton-Orpik for now.

A scrum at the end of the play saw Thornton lose his mind, and Orpik paid for it in a very scary way.
Thornton slew-foots Orpik in the scrum, and then proceeds to punch him as he lays on the ice. The result was an unconscious Orpik, a stretcher, and Thornton sent off to the dressing room for the remainder of the game. It was announced that Thornton will have an in-person meeting with Brendan Shanahan this week, so he's suspended indefinitely until that happens.

A slew-foot move is one of the dirtiest plays a player can perform because the victim rarely ever has time to brace for the fall. Honestly, if I were Brendan Shanahan, slew-foot maneuvers would always be a suspendable action because they're cheap, they're dirty, and they almost always result in a scrap, an injury, or both.

Following a slew-foot up with repeated punches to the head while a player lays in a prone position? You can almost certainly write-off five games of your season for that unless your name is Ray Emery. However, punching a guy into unconsciousness is a cardinal sin after slew-footing him into that prone position. I expect Shawn Thornton to get a ten-game suspension for his actions on this one.

Thornton won't be the only player suspended from the game, though, as James Neal committed an act of cowardice rarely seen at the professional level. In fact, the move pulled by Neal on a prone Brad Marchand deserves a longer suspension than what the NHL is seemingly committing itself to, but let's check the video for Neal's idiotic move that put him in Shanahan's doghouse.
That, readers, is absolutely garbage. Neal is a classless act if he thinks this is an acceptable move to make when Marchand is already down on the ice. I'd say he kicked Marchand when he was down, but it appeared Neal tried to decapitate the prone Marchand with his leg. I am disgusted by what Neal did.

Look, I'm a Penguins fan and there's no love lost if the Bruins miss the playoffs or end up at the bottom of the standings. But what James Neal did is inexcusable, and it was confirmed after the game that he will have a telephone meeting with Brendan Shanahan to determine his suspension. Normally, suspensions via phone are a maximum of five games, so I say give him five games. Neal's malicious act deserves the maximum punishment. Personally, I'd give Neal a ten-game suspension like Thornton, but that call belongs only to Shanahan.

Lastly, we'll look at an incident that happened later in the game that I still feel should be reviewed for a suspension. Again, it's an action of a malicious and dangerous intent, so let's go to the video.
Pascal Dupuis clearly chopped Chris Kelly's leg like he was trying to chop down a Christmas tree. If it truly "'tis the season", Paul Bunyan would be proud of Dupuis' hack to Kelly's leg. I haven't seen a chop to a leg like that since Bobby Clarke broke Valeri Kharlamov's ankle with a slash. And like that slash, this one broke Kelly's leg.

Dupuis is normally a fairly solid competitor, but this slash was completely unnecessary in a game already marred by a few ugly incidents. Dupuis should sit for a couple of games for this act in my view. He had no intention of playing the puck that had already passed by Kelly, instead using his stick like an axe to chop down Kelly who had thrown a high check on Dupuis moments earlier. It's inexcusable, it's disgusting to watch, and there's no place in hockey for this kind of crap.

At what point do the NHL and NHLPA get together and say "enough is enough"? The owners have a lot of money invested in these players, and they expect them to be on the ice to help them win and generate revenue. The NHLPA obviously wants to see the players playing and performing as that means bigger paydays individually, and will help to drive salaries upwards as well. There are considerable interests on both sides of the coin from the NHL's and NHLPA's perspectives, yet neither side seems to care enough to ensure that players remain on the ice.

Because the competition and parity in the NHL is so close, teams have begun to adopt win-at-all-costs mentalities. I understand there's a need to win because winning teams make money. But at what cost does the almighty dollar win out over safety and respect for the players and amongst the players?

This isn't gladiatorial Rome. This isn't some battle to the death. It's just hockey. It's a sport that is ultimately played between two teams that shake hands at the end of sports' most demanding tournament every season. That shaking of the hands is a sign of respect. Even if you're on the losing end of the result, the winners are thanking you for the challenge you presented. And if you're on the winning side, you shake hands with the defeated in presenting you a challenge that will hopefully prepare your team for the next challenge that awaits you in the playoffs.

This lack of respect shown in the regular season is getting out of hand. I'm not sure what it will take - a career-ending injury? A death? - for it to change, but the change needs to happen now. Not tomorrow, not next season, but now. The next wave of future NHLers are watching these acts of senseless violence and imitating their heroes. The lessons shown above are not what I want to see the next generation of hockey players imitating and repeating.

Get your acts together, NHL and NHLPA. This has to stop here and now.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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