Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is Shanny the Answer for Discipline in the NHL?

Here we are... it's August... there's not a whole lot going on in the NHL, which means guys like me try to think of ideas for stuff to write about, to make sure readers like you are still thinking and talking about hockey. Still, for die-hards like us, there's a name for these next several weeks before training camps begin. Thusly, this series of topical hockey posts shall be known as...


...or at least that's the name I'm going with. So... on to the topic:Max Pacioretty is making a play on the puck along the boards, where he is met by Zdeno Chara. After the initial contact, Chara is pushing against Pacioretty before skating away, an instant before Pacioretty's head hits the stanchion of the glass between the benches.

Ryan McDonagh chips in the puck from center ice, just inside the redline, when Matt Cooke's elbow comes up and plows him across the face.

Ryan Johnson makes a clearing play on the puck, right before Todd Bertuzzi backs into him, putting an elbow to his head.

Jan Hejda collides with Marc Kruger, and in the process elbows Kruger in the head.

Aaron Rome blind sides Nathan Horton. Et cetera, et cetera.…

No, I'm not trying to bring back horrific memories for the players and fans who experienced or saw these plays. And God knows that headshots have been discussed in this space a bit over the last four or five months.

However, I am trying to make a point. All of these were head shots that were investigated by the NHL after the NHL was said it would crackdown on head shots… except for the Chara hit, which happened a few weeks before. The league finally got around to doing something after an outcry from fans, and even the threat by Air Canada to pull its sponsorship.

However, the league's enforcement since the NHL promised this crackdown has been inconsistent at best. Chara, as we all know, was not suspended… but the hit helped start the conversation. Cooke missed the rest of the season, and should have played his last game in Penguins uniform, if not for Mario Lemieux's hippocrisy. Bertuzzi walked. Hejda was suspended for two games. Aaron Rome missed the rest of the Stanley Cup Final.

No, Bertuzzi was not the only guy that got away with a head hit. Mike Richards pushed Tim Connolly's head into the boards from behind in the first round of the Playoffs this year, and got nothing. Raffi Torres laid a shoulder-to-head hit on Brent Seabrook in the first round as well, and also got nothing.

As a realist, I will tell you this: I guarantee that incidents like this will continue to happen in the NHL. And it will piss you off greatly.

More importantly, it could end someone's career prematurely. Look at Paul Kariya, who announced his retirement in late June.

I'll say it up front. I had never been much of a Kariya fan. Dude always struck me as kind of soft. Great finesse and the dude could pot some serious highlight-reel goals, but for the most part, not really what one would call a "tough" hockey player... like the hockey equivalent of "Glass Joe" in Punch-Out (seriously dating myself, I know).

A Stanley Cup Final game changed my mind. You remember... the one in which he got taken out by then-Devils captain Scott Stevens (waaay dirty hit, by the way), but then returned and scored another one of those great goals, roofing a slapper over Martin Brodeur.

Whether or not he should have been allowed to take the ice again that night (can't help but wonder, in hindsight), you can't disrespect a guy who can pull off something like that. Kariya was a hellaciously talented hockey player. And sadly, his career was cut short because the NHL hasn't done enough to crack down on bullshit like what we've been seeing lately.

In explaining his retirement, Kariya noted the glaring inconsistency in the enforcement of illegal hits, noting that for the first concussion he received in 1996, the offender got a two-game suspension. For the last one he received in 2010, the offender got nothing. Kariya also noted the NHL hasn't dished out punishments that are enough of a deterrent to change player styles.

Case in point... Matt Cooke, who -- just a few games back from a four-game suspension for boarding Fedor Tyutin, and just days after the NHL announced changes to Rule 48 -- planted his elbow in McDonagh's head. Will missing the rest of the season be a deterrent in his future?

If Mario keeps insisting on keeping Cooke's sorry ass, he'll be benched again for pulling the same crap. My venom on Cooke, Bertuzzi, Danny Carcillo and other NHL Thug-Stars can wait for another time, though.

The tentatively good news... maybe there is hope for the NHL in the fact that there is a new proverbial "sheriff" in town, in Brendan Shanahan. It makes sense... Shanny's only two years removed from the NHL. He has been on the "front lines," so to speak. He knows what the game has been looking like in recent years. I would argue that Shanahan is a hell of a lot more in-touch with what's happening on the ice than Campbell was. Shanahan has been on the receiving end of some nasty, even illegal, hits as well.

Now I can't speak to Campbell's NHL experience because I wasn't watching hockey back then, but a look at his stats seems to show a certain... oh, I don't know... non-descript quality about him as a player. For every point he registered, he had approximately 10 PIMs. Something tells me he dished it out more. I'm not here to bash Campbell, though... lousy, inconsistent disciplinarian or not.

I just think Shanahan could bring the NHL some much-needed perspective in dealing with discipline for illegal hits to the head (and obviously, other issues as well). He's a fresh presence in the front office, in that he has been there on the ice and understands the culture of the game better than Gary Bettman, or any of the other mindless suits in the front office.

But only time will tell.

I think it's safe to say that we can expect headshots to be the first major test.

Thank you for reading.

Now... while you're here, let me also mention that CannonFest is coming up in less than two weeks. That's right, our annual gathering of CBJ fans, friends and bloggers is returning to the BW3's in Grandview on Sunday, August 14th. Food and drink specials will be there. Bloggers will be there. Great hockey talk will be there. The video artistry of Tom Larrow will be there.

Thus... YOU should be there.


So, no excuses. See you there. Cheers.

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