Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Notch Above Professional Wrestling

Back when Mike Green was slapped with a three game suspension for delivering an elbow to the head, we knew that it would only be a matter of time before another vicious and intentional hit to the head would come along and the NHL would look the other way. It only took 36 days and we happen to think it only took that long because of the Olympic Break.

By now everybody knows what Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguin Scum did on Sunday afternoon to Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins. And you also know by now that the NHL has decided to look the other way in the matter. Today’s mealy mouthed excuse from the NHL? “It wasn’t a penalty.”

Funny, when Donald Brashear clobbered Blair Betts with a clean open ice hit that injured Betts in Game 6 of the First Round last April, no penalty was called on Brashear for the hit. (He did receive a roughing minor along with Paul Mara who came to the aid of his fallen comrade) Yet Colin Campbell felt it was necessary to tag Brashear, who like Cooke was considered a repeat offender, with a five game suspension in the playoffs. A sixth game was added because of Brashear’s actions during the warm ups that day.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why we (and the rest of the sports world) happen to think of the NHL as something just a notch above professional wrestling. The only difference we happen to think is that the members of the media who follow professional wrestling are in on the joke that it is all setup whereas most of the media are like a majority of hockey fans who think the NHL is a legitimate sport. But folks, it isn’t. Legitimate sports leagues do not operate like this.

Quite frankly, it is simply craven and cowardly for Campbell to hide behind the “it wasn’t a penalty" excuse for his inaction as it related to Matt Cooke when the NHL couldn’t change their rules fast enough to stop the New York Rangers’ Sean Avery from waving his stick in front of the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur’s face in the playoffs just two years ago. After a few days in the sun with the league’s General Managers discussing whether or not to do something about head shots (as Traumatic Brian Injury comes a bigger and bigger issue nationwide) for Campbell to look the other way on Cooke’s actions and then blame the fact that the NHL Suggestion Book is silent on the matter and therefore effectively tying his hands is simply outrageous. But not very surprising.

Further adding to the problem is the NHL’s timeframe for making these decisions. The Penguin Scum have been off since Thursday so the NHL felt no need “to rush to judgment” on Cooke but in the interim, everybody looking at the NHL for guidance is left wondering just what that guidance is going to be. There were 11 games played on Monday and Tuesday, including one with the Philadelphia Flyers, before the non-decision decision was handed down by Campbell on Wednesday afternoon. That’s 11 games where the players had no idea what the current standard was going to be set at. We understand letting the emotions settle, we understand “getting all the facts before making a judgment” but allowing three days to pass after the incident in question because the player under the gun won’t be playing anyway puts other players in the league at risk just as much as not suspending a player like Cooke.

But by dragging their feet on these situations, the NHL allows their various “old sage voices” to publicly plead “not to take hitting out of the game.” After all Don Cherry says he knows what Americans want, he says we watch NFL football all time and the NFL has nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero on the issue of head shots ever in the history of the leauge. We just watched an amazing Olympic Hockey Tournament under international rules that include penalties for headshots and we can tell you that there was very little hitting or excitement in any of the games. Jaromir Jagr can personally attest to the lack of hitting in Vancouver.

No, Don Cherry tells us if we want to protect the players, we need to soften up their equipment so that these faster, stronger, and bigger players who train all year can’t hurt each other. (Sadly enough, the NHL is seriously heading in this direction). We’re also told that the instigator penalty is the reason why we have all these problems too. The idea that a team would target a Nicklas Backstrom late in a game they’re leading with a fight to get him off the ice is just ludicrous! Nope, the same players who are taking the cheap shots in the first place will be entrusted to “police the game” and call the offenders into account for their actions and all will be fine with the world.

But what is really sad is that this situation once again shows that the NHL is not serious and is making the satire of Slap Shot! into reality. The NHL could clean up its act overnight as it relates to cheap shots, headshots, and outright thuggery and it would start by getting rid of fighting. Because while we typically disagree with Larry Brooks, he had a great point last year that the NHL cannot seriously do anything about headshots and still allow fighting in the game.

And we have what we happen to think is a great idea on how to get rid of fighting without actually getting rid of fighting directly. The NHL should first all, start actually enforcing their own rules on a consistent basis, making them rules instead of the mere suggestions they currently are. But after that, a rule should be added that any player who is assessed with any major penalty during a game is automatically assessed a game misconduct and ejected. Furthermore, players who receive game misconducts are automatically suspended on a progressive scale. A player’s first game misconduct in a season is an automatic one game suspension, the second one a two game suspension and on until the fifth game misconduct when the suspension time doubles from five to ten games. A player who manages to amass five game misconducts in one season will be suspended for a total of 20 games and facing a 12 game suspension for his next game misconduct. It wouldn’t take very long for players to figure that one out. Additionally, the only person who should be able to rescind the automatic suspension is the NHL Commissioner. Since the Commissioner is the public face of the NHL Front Office, we don’t think he would be too inclined to defang a rule designed to clean up the game.

Yeah a Zenon Konopka would spend more time in the press box than he would on the bench, but who would really miss him? Including the pre-season, he’s had fighting majors in 25 games so far this season. Under our proposal He wouldn’t have gotten to ten games with a fight because with the 18 game suspension for his 9th game misconduct, he would be suspended for a cumlative total of 80 games in just one season. And who would miss the likes of Konopka? He’s not exactly somebody the NHL is clamoring to get on David Letterman or the Today Show. How many covers of Sports Illustrated or The Hockey News has he graced?

No, the only ones who would miss a Konopka, or for that matter a Matt Cooke, are the Don Cherry, Mike Millbury, and other Ultimate Fighting on Ice fans that have been an albatross around this game’s neck for too long. And because Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell are too cowardly to confront them, it is time for the NHL owners to get people who will stand up to that crowd for the betterment and growth of the game. The owners have openly wondered just what do they get out of shutting down their league and letting the players go to the Olympics every four years? The answer is nothing because Olympic hockey does not tolerate the nonsense that the NHL does and everybody knows it. Which is why if the owners were serious about growing the game, they would be pushing for an end to this nonsense too.

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