Ohhhh, the Bruins. You silly, silly Bruins. What were you doing? Silly, foolish Bruins. That has to be, taking the full context into consideration, one of the worst losses in the history of North American pro sports.
This is going to be the hands-down oddest conference finals I can recall. Been a hell of a playoffs so far.
It must be said: as a neutral, I’m enjoying the playoff run of this year’s Montreal Canadiens more than just about anything else in the recent history of hockey. This team is like a hairball caught in the collective throat of the NHL, a hideous, lumpen and unwelcome mass obstructing the vital flows. They have a negligible offense, no stars, they give up 40 or 50 shots a game, seem like they have no business being in the playoffs let alone succeeding in them… but they KO’d the team of the league’s second biggest star and today they played the exact same style of game to win on the road against the team of the biggest star. Every time they score, I picture Gary Bettman tearing off his toupee and stomping on it in cartoonish anger, and it fills me with mirth. After all the Ovechkin and !~Sidney~! hype, it’s been a combination of Camel Larry, the U.S.S. Hal Gill and a Slovakian backup goaltender who no one’s ever heard of which has become the story of these playoffs. This is a tremendous thing.
I hope these fuckers go all the way.
Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t, but the Sharks coming back from a goal down with less than a minute left to force OT then winning the game in the extra time is impressive. They’ve got a justified and infamous reputation as choke artists, and were thisclose to being down 2 games to none as a #1 seed to a #8 seed, at home; now they’re not. I have no idea if this will inform their performances in the future, but there’s a chance that this was the first step in saving them from becoming the Phoenix Suns of the NHL.
By the recent history of NHL jurisprudence, 8 games is horseshit; he should have gotten at most 2.
By the reality of the situation he should get a hell of a lot more, and yet this penalty is just long enough for everyone to know that it’s an example and being done to stop the league from looking bad and yet not long enough to actually dissuade any future behavior. This suspension is media-driven, determined more by events surrounding it than any individual merit- if not for the Richards/Cooke/Ovechkin hits dominating the last week of hockey coverage even as we approach the playoffs (plus the visual impact of the hit and Seabrook crumpling to the ice like a Pacquiao opponent), it’s a good bet that this wouldn’t be much more than a game for Wisniewski, prior offender or not. The next guy who delivers a hit like this will assume, rightly, that all he has to do is wait for the heat to cool off and something like this will be considered just another check, probably not even a penalty with some officiating crews on some nights.
To actually dissuade players from executing these kinds of hits you need to do one or both of two things: consistently suspend and fine players enough for these plays to hurt (10-15 games) whether or not hits to the head is the topic of the day, season after season, regardless of team of player identity; or else, if you’re going to make an example of someone, make a real example- suspend them for a full season, 82 games from the spot of the foul, and fight the court case. Right now the NHL’s biggest disciplinary problem is that no one respects any part of the process or anyone executing it, and while draconian maliciousness isn’t the best way of breaking that cycle it’s rapidly becoming one of the very few tools the NHL has left itself. They can’t fire all the referees although they should since there’s no one to replace them with, they can’t re-write the rule book from scratch although they should because people’s assumptions are too dug in, they can’t just change the headshots rule because the officials won’t call it and Toronto will undermine it as soon as it’s written in by playing favorites and ducking hard calls, they can’t change Colin Campbell because look who’d be in charge of replacing him- all that’s left for them is to crack down harder and harder in the short term, hopefully while starting to rebuild actual quality and ability in all the other areas just mentioned. All this suspension does is prove that the NHL still isn’t serious about any of this, and barely even knows it has a problem.
And let it be added, even if the NHL does get serious about this in a day or a week or a month, it’s not going to change the basic issue of what gets called, probably rightly, disrespect. Right now the NHL has a generation or two of players who think this is a gang war and anything goes, that it’s not just acceptable but desirable to hurt your opponents. Read the quotes here and here; until that disgusting mentality is run out of the game, this shit is going to keep happening, over and over and over, until someone gets killed on the ice. You know it’s coming, I know it’s coming, and right now no one cares enough to do anything about it. Right now the default position in the NHL from players, broadcasters, media and fans is to blame an injured player for being too weak to take a hit, and celebrate the person who injured him for playing the game hard. It’s not a coincidence that every year there’s more of these hits and that they’ve increased with dramatic frequency over the last 20 years.
Bonus quotes on Colin Campbell here. Can you imagine the chief official in charge of player discipline in any other sport being publicly told that his presence is unwanted and he’s not welcome in the dressing room even to explain himself? Only the NHL is this much of a joke, only their officials held in such open and blatant contempt by the people they’re supposed to be overseeing.
So ok, they decided to suspend Ovechkin for 2 games for a foul play which deserved 2 minutes, and yet Matt Cooke can take a guy’s head off and potentially end their career and gets a pat on the back for it- despite both players being repeat offenders. Amazing. Every single step of the NHL disciplinary process is a joke: the rules themselves are random and nonsensical, the officials calling the penalties are incompetent, the league officials are gutless and craven, and the players and fans are bloodthirsty cretins. No one understands what the basis for decisions is, and the best guess people can come up with in many situations- and this looks like one– is a combination of bias and hidden agendas. How much longer can this go on?
What can you even say at this point? If Campbell’s reasoning is that he can’t punish #2 because he didn’t punish #1, then he’ll find himself not punishing #14, 17, and 183 for the same reasons. A foolish consistency, hobgoblin, small minds, etc. This ruling is an encouragement to every player who deliberately attempts to injure other players: it says, in effect, that if you can make your hit (and what an appropriate word that is) look like one which has snuck past the league before, you’re golden- go ahead and do your worst. Have you ever wondered why hockey players seem to be the only major pro athletes who get brought up on charges semi-regularly for actions taking place during games? It’s because there is no functioning in-game league-based system of discipline and control which anyone respects, and rulings like this are why. And if you’re naive enough to think that today’s possible new rule change (which was obviously announced to coincide with and bury the no-suspension ruling) is going to do a damn bit of good on this issue, keep this in mind: the referees who can’t sort out interference will be the ones making calls on that basis, and the Toronto braintrust which is fine with what Matt Cooke did will be judging suspensions.
Personally, given that Brian Burke was involved, I’m just glad we didn’t get a new 2 minute minor for injured players not getting off the ice fast enough. This league fucking sucks.
There are times when I almost wonder if the league wants to get a player killed on the ice for publicity’s sake. That is as dirty a hit as you’ll see, a deliberate attempt to injure a defenseless opponent in the worst way possible on a play which has no legitimate hockey value, and the chances of it being dealt with as such are negligible. The whole thing will end up as another insanely worthless elbow vs. shoulder debate, which will be settled when someone in the office throws up their hands and gives us the old favorite line about how a player has to “keep their head up” and “protect themselves.” I can’t wait to find out how well that excuse holds up against the inevitable wrongful death suit which I fully expect to be filed in the next 10 years. Ultimately however, we’re all somewhat responsible for this bullshit: the league markets violence and protects the star teams and players, fostering a sense that no one is really in charge and that these hits are desired; teams keep hiring dirty fucking thugs; those thugs attack and injure other players, and their teammates and coaches defend it like it’s a gang war thing; and fans- those who haven’t been run off yet- either defend this BS with the same old worthless excuses when it’s their team in the wrong, or excuse the violence as “just part of the game”, or are hockey fans because deep down they like watching people get hurt. It’s a fucked up state of affairs.
No one can really plead ignorance anymore about this. It happens every single season, 5 or 6 or 10 times a year, and it’s gotten worse over the years as the quality of talent in the league has been diluted to an all-time low and more and more teams are reduced to hiring physical intimidators to have any chance against more talented outfits. There’s more and more data out there about the long term effects of concussions, which are incredibly scary, and this is not boxing or MMA where everyone knows the score and consents and there are no cowardly sneak attacks from the blind side. If all the ritual invocations to “protect yourself” and “keep your head up” had any relevance to reality, after years and years of this shit players would do so and we wouldn’t have this problem. But they don’t, because they can’t, because it’s impossible to both do your job and defend yourself perfectly night after night after night when every team has players whose job description is “try to rough up the other team’s best players”. We’ve reached the point where everyone involved is morally culpable for this state of affairs, because anyone who cares about hockey enough to watch the unbelievable shit which is the modern NHL cares enough to think through these basic issues facing the league. As to what it says about NHL management as the people in position to actually do something directly about this that nothing changes, is perhaps best left unsaid.
Get rid of the instigator penalty. Ban deliberate shots to the head regardless of body part used, and make it clear that any play giving the appearance of deliberate intent to injure will be dealt with severely. Hire semi-competent referees and tell them to open the game up and make it about skill again. Install a clear, explicit and strong disciplinary system and STICK TO IT regardless of who’s up on charges and what team they represent. Contract 5-10* teams. Stop marketing violence and market skill instead, which is to say have some fucking trust in your sport. Get a commissioner who has some semblance of a clue on God’s green about what it is he’s doing. I don’t expect all of these to happen (to be honest I don’t expect any of these to happen) but there’s no good reason for some of them not to be in place this time next year. Instead what we’ll get is a bunch of bad reasons and lame excuses and another 5-10 players taken off on backboards because hey, you wouldn’t want to mess with a winning formula like Gary Bettman’s NHL. I’ve said it before and will say it again: I love this sport and I hate this league.
* Columbus, Nashville, Phoenix, Florida, Atlanta, and you can make a case for Tampa Bay, Carolina, Edmonton and maybe a couple more. And I mean contract, not relocate.
OK, OK…so bitching about how Gary Bettman and his army of clowns is going to be the ruination of the NHL someday (already?) is hardly difficult. But, I read this, and it simply amazes me how some jackass face in the crowd such as myself can pick holes in all of their arguments without breaking a sweat. It shouldn’t be that way, either. I read things that Brendan posts on here sometimes and am amazed at his capability of taking something and seeing 6 or 7 moves ahead. I don’t think like that…I can get out to 2 or 3 on a good day. But, I sure can identify horseshit when I see it, and the NHL produces that at a greater rate than even their shitty referees.
I’m off to lunch, but a few bullet points:
1. People will still fucking watch the games, you retards. People have DVRs, and they will avoid results until they get home to watch it. Who the shitting fuck watches commercials, anyway?
2. The more that countries like Switzerland and Germany and Belarus get to play against top-level opposition (read as: NHL players), the better they’re going to get at hockey. The better they get at hockey, the more fans will be created in those countries…fans who will pay to watch hockey. Is it so hard to imagine that the rights fees to NHL games may go further once hockey has made deeper inroads in those countries?
3. If it were me, I would play nice with the Russians. In return, I would play hardball to establish a 3-game series every year between the Stanley Cup champions and the KHL champions. How would this NOT resonate with those precious casual fans you’ve been trying to cultivate since the dawn of time, Bettman?
Then again, why should I question when the current regime’s been doing such a great job already? *sigh*
Clearly Ken Hitchcock was the problem with the Columbus Blue Jackets.