Monday, 25 January 2010

The NHL Is Way Behind

I'm a little late to the party thanks to the blizzard we have encountered today, but I want to take a little time to reflect on the suspension handed down by the QMJHL today against forward Patrice Cormier of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. As you may recall, Cormier threw a vicious elbow on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts last week that left Tam convulsing on the ice. I called for his career to end in the QMJHL, and Cormier received a suspension for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. There were a lot of people who said that the injury shouldn't warrant any additional time off, but I fully disagree with that sentiment. It's time that I set out on a crusade to make the game of hockey better regardless of what the crime is. While I'm simply a voice in the dark on this, perhaps someone will change his or her opinion on how the game is being played. If I do that, I have succeeded.

The 19 year-old Cormier is a New Jersey Devils prospect, and they were high on his abilities. He is certainly a Lou Lamiorello-type player: he finishes checks, he kills penalties with reckless abandon, and he is a leader. While Lamiorello is still high on Cormier's abilities, this hit has cast a serious shadow on his ability to play disciplined on the ice and within the rules of society. It's not like this is an isolated incident with Cormier either. So what needs to happen for things to change?

First off, we need to teach kids that any act of violence - including those on the ice - will have consequences. That's not to say that a clean hit or facewash is bad for the game. All it means is that the further you cross that imaginary line between clean hit and dirty play, the consequences should be more and more damning.

This could be something as minor as a penalty, but it could reach as far as a court of law. There is precedence now for the criminal justice system to respond to violent acts on the ice. Marty McSorley was charged in Vancouver for his stick-swinging incident against Donald Brashear. Steve Moore is still in a legal battle with Todd Bertuzzi, Marc Crawford, and the Vancouver Canucks. Jonathan Roy pleaded guilty in a Quebec courtroom for his total loss of control in a game last season. While these cases are definitely the farthest reach on the scale, there is certainly precedent for bringing in criminal charges after someone commits a horrendous act of violence on the ice.

Having your team play shorthanded for two minutes is enough to cost your team two points. If you're suspended for any length of time, it could cost you a game or two in the standings at least.

Consider the plight of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies now. Rouyn-Noranda had swung a trade with the Rimouski Oceanic to acquire Cormier and Jordan Caron in exchange for two 17 year-old players and a package of draft picks. With the two talented players, the Huskies appeared to be setting themselves up for a run to the Memorial Cup - the CHL's most-coveted prize. Now, because of Cormier's elbow, he has not only cost the team his services, but two 17 year-old players and those draft picks. His indiscretion with his elbow not only affects his teammates and his team's standing, but possibly his team's overall success this season and its future.

How selfish is that? This is something that needs to be stressed to young players. Doing something like Cormier did is not only foolish and stupid, but it is extremely selfish. With hockey having a major team component, a selfish player is the last kind of player you want on your team.

Secondly, there has to be some sort of agreement or deal put in place between all of the leagues in North America regarding suspensions. If a player is suspended in League A, he cannot go to Leagues B or C and gain acceptance as a player. Basically, if a player is suspended from hockey, he is suspended for the duration of time set out by the league that suspended him across the board with no exceptions.

I was glad to see that Devils' GM Lou Lamiorello is going to uphold the QMJHL's suspension, and prevent Cormier from joining the AHL's Lowell Devils at the end of Rouyn-Noranda's season. Lamiorello stated that the Devils would "honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season". I'm not fond of Mr. Lamiorello's business approaches regarding the teams that the Devils own and are affiliated with, but it's nice to see that an NHL executive has respect for the game. Big thumbs-up from me, Mr. Lamiorello.

Lastly, the NHL - the world's premiere hockey league - needs to start ruling with the iron fist that the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL do for several reasons.

Injuries to players in the NHL are never something that the home team wants to see because it affects their ticket sales through star power. If a player like Ilya Kovalchuk is injured by a reckless play, would you buy tickets to watch the Atlanta Thrashers? Since he's really their only highlight reel player on a nightly basis, the chances are slim that you'd plop down a pile of money to go see the Thrashers play. When ticket sales are affected, NHL teams suffer.

These hits that cause major injuries are shown ad nauseum on highlight shows around the continent, and children are watching this. While there have been athletes who have tried to denounce their "role model" status, if you're on TV, you're a role model to someone. It's that simple. So when you do something dumb like throwing a vicious elbow on an unsuspecting player, you have to accept that your actions may be repeated by someone younger who doesn't know how wrong those actions were. With the digital world that we live in now, you can be sure that something as vile as Cormier's elbow will appear online. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'd be sick about kids imitating me if I did something so heinous.

Your public perception, and that includes players from hockey leagues, will undoubtedly take a serious nosedive. Losing respect of your fellow players is tough enough when you're playing a physical game. Steve Downie and Dale Hunter still carry their baggage around for their lack of discipline, and that's something that may follow them for some time still.

While I don't disagree with parents teaching their children about right and wrong, putting this onus on parents to explain why your actions were wrong is entirely unfair. Again, no one wants to see anyone imitating these actions, but children are highly impressionable. Parents should be responsible for praising their kids after the game, not explaining that what someone did on the ice should never, ever be done by anyone. Right and wrong is hard enough for some parents. We don't need to cloud the picture with vicious elbows.

If the NHL wants to be a leader, they need to start cracking down hard on players who step outside the line of respect for others on the ice. It's not like there isn't any NHL precedent for long suspensions. There have been a number of players who have had the book proverbially thrown at them, and this should be a starting point for discipline and discouraging dirty play.

  • Chris Simon - 30 games. Simon received the longest suspension in NHL history for his stomp on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu in 2007.
  • Chris Simon - 25 games. Simon is given 25 games for his baseball-style swing at the head of New York Ranger Ryan Hollweg in 2007.
  • Jesse Boulerice - 25 games. Boulerice was suspended for 25 games after he crosschecked Vancouver's Ryan Kesler across the face in 2007.
  • Marty McSorley - 23 games. McSorley was suspended for the remainder of the season after clipping Vancouver's Donald Brashear in the head with a baseball swing in 2000.
  • Gordie Dwyer - 23 games. Dwyer is given 23 games to think about his actions after abusin officials and leaving the penalty box to join a fight in 2000.
  • Dale Hunter - 21 games. Hunter's bodycheck on the Islanders' Pierre Turgeon after he scored in a playoff game got him a 21-game vacation in 1993.
  • Steve Downie - 20 games. Downie was given a quarter of the season off after he threw a vicious check that targeted the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in 2007.
  • Tom Lysiak - 20 games. Lysiak deliberately tripped an NHL linesman, giving him a 20-game break in 1983.
  • Brad May - 20 games. May watched from the press box for 20 games after he swung his stick at the head of Columbus' Steve Heinze in 2000.
All of these acts are vicious and completely outside the realm of respect for one's fellow players and peers in the game of hockey. All were punished severely, and all could be used as precedence in the NHL in terms of cleaning up the game.

Again, the NHL claims to be a leader in several facets of making hockey better, yet they consistently fail in the department regarding punishing violent acts. While I get that the NHLPA has a hand in preventing its players from being punished too severely, there has to be some give by the NHLPA when it comes to protecting the players as well.

Until that happens, it seems this is entirely a moot point. And that's a sad state of affairs for the NHL to be in when it claims to be a leader.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Captain Canuck said...

two things really bothered me about that Cormier hit. 1, the intentional elbow itself. No reason for that, especially at center ice. 2, that absolutely no one did anything about it. Where were his team mates? How would you feel if you found out that someone did that to you on purpose, and not one team mate came to your defence? Either he's not well liked in the locker room,or something is really wrong with that team.

D. said...

Cormier deserves the suspension that he got. Anything more would be excessive.

Anonymous said...

In order to initiate and instill good clean safe hockey play into our youth players in my opinion should start with USA Hockey changing the contact and checking rule to state that starting from the "BANTAM" level within it's youth programs players cannot check an opposing player without the puck and also must be actually attempting to play the puck with their stick, feet etc. at the same time, strictly going for the opposing player without playing the puck at the same time in my opinion should be banned from youth hockey, up to a certain level and or after they are eighteen yrs. old the majority of our youth players will never play college and or Junior hockey etc.
I also feel as certain coaches and players etc. do that the NHL is way behind times on instilling rules which demand safe hockey play and penalizing those who flagrantly and dangerously break them.
Those who think that the fan numbers would drop considerably if players could not fight,bash and blind side their opponents are sadly mistaken, Although people flock in to view the all star game to see their favorite players, the fans still enjoy the game as it is played, and is my favorite game of the season.There is no substitute for great skating, team and individual skills play, including great goalie play, there is absolutely no art to blind siding some one or delaying a game while fighting etc.