Friday, August 19, 2011

Can The NHL Afford To Cultivate A Thug Culture?

I wouldn't so much call this "part [insert number here]" of my discussion of discipline in the NHL... but it is a continuation of the discussion as we work our way through the...

I was reading a piece a few weeks back in which Travis Hughes of SB Nation referred to something known as the "Matt Cooke culture."

Now, of course, I like to think that there is still a prevailing attitude that hockey can still consists of great offense, sound defense, hard-hitting, and just to touch of style, while still contributing to the overall concept that sportsmanship is still a focal point of the sport.

Now, obviously there are exceptions to this overall idealistic attitude… guys like Matt Cooke... Danny Carcillo... Todd Bertuzzi... Trevor Gillies... an Islanders watch party... the list goes on. Unfortunately, those are examples of demons that the NHL can't quite exorcise just yet. Hell, Carcillo's already picking targets for his move back to the Western Conference.

But, are these demons a sign of things to come? I would not have thought so. Surely, you don't hear kids say stuff like, "I want to be just like the guy who attacked Steve Moore from behind, put him face-first into the ice and ended his career."

Or, "Hey, remember when Marc Savard was punched in the back of the head by Dan Carcillo for no reason at all after the whistle, right after he returned from a concussion? That was awesome!"

Yeah, you never hear kids saying anything like that.

Until I read Hughes' piece about Danick Paquette (hell of a piece, I might add). For those who really care about the game of hockey and its future, the words "Cooke culture" in the headline are disturbing enough.

Wow. So, this little piece of work made a dirty hit on one of his fellow Capitals prospects in development camp a few weeks ago. Thankfully, the other guy got up, and was apparently fine.

Sure I know the guy's trying to make the team. I'm all for competition. But this was a scrimmage with someone who is essentially a teammate. But that's not even the best part. In speaking to the media afterwards, Paquette told a Washington Times reporter, "I'm a pretty dirty player. I did my job, like Matt Cooke."

Ummmm, no, Danick... I don't think the Penguins specifically pay Matt Cooke to go out and try to injure people. He's expected to contribute something on offense and help the Pens win their division, which is hard to do when the NHL suspends him, which is why Cooke's last offense likely pissed off a few of his teammates... not that any of them went on-record with it.

However, this isn't about Matt Cooke's past and present... this is about hockey's future.

Is Paquette the only player to be concerned about in the NHL's next generation? I wish.

Remember this hit?

Hint: The guy on the receiving end (the one convulsing on the ice) didn't. This was former New Jersey draft pick Patrice Cormier's hit on Mikael Tam during a QMJHL game in 2010. He was suspended the rest of the season for the hit. Tam was hospitalized. The Devils dumped Cormier to Atlanta in the package that sent Kovalchuk to Jersey. Not sure that playing for the Jets is punishment enough, but... neither here nor there.

Thankfully, Tam returned to play for the Quebec Remparts the next year. Looked good statistically, too. Cormier got some time with the "big club" (if you could ever have called the Thrashers that), and tallied a couple points in 21 games. Well... if he can't establish a scoring touch, he's still got elbows, eh? Maybe that's his role.

But that hit... with all the current talk about hits to the head and the potential long-term after-effects -- physically, mentally and emotionally. Paul Kariya's retirement... Marc Savard's continued shutdown....

The deaths of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien.

Is this what the targets of this kind of play have to look forward to later in life?

Even if the NHL's enforcement of hits to the head improves...

...can it save hockey's next generation from hockey's next generation?

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