PHILADELPHIA -- You could hardly find a more straight-up player in the NHL than Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. Tough as nails but thoughtful, he has seen what has been unfolding this playoff spring and hears what people are saying.
What he sees isn’t so much a change in the way the game is played as a way the game is viewed.
“I think just now with every big hit, the first word you hear out of people’s mouths is 'suspension, suspension.' Rather than maybe it was a good hit. Maybe it’s just how we view them is changing,” Orpik told ESPN.com Wednesday morning.
“Let’s be honest: Nobody thought Scott Stevens’ hit on Paul Kariya (during the 2003 Stanley Cup finals) was dirty, right? If that happened now, people would be calling for (Stevens’) head. Everyone says players have a lack of respect for each other. I think it’s how the hits are viewed now. I’m not saying the hits before were better, but a lot of guys grew up saying, 'I want to play like Scott Stevens did because he was praised for it and idolized for it,'” Orpik said.
The advances in medical research, especially as it relates to concussions and blows to the head and the long-term impact of the violent collisions, have changed the sensitivity to those things. Go back 10 or 15 years -- the hits probably aren’t any less violent or (in some cases) dirty, Orpik said.
“I think it’s just the way they’re looked upon and viewed and maybe that’s just culture changing," he said. "You see all the stuff in the NFL and advances in the medical findings, and the research with brain disease I think maybe that leads into it too. I think everybody being more aware of the long-term risks plays into how people view the hits.”
Still, Orpik acknowledged that those in the greater hockey community should be concerned about how this is being viewed by the paying public.
“It reflects badly on the game," he said. "You’re trying to grow the game, and obviously I think with the TV exposure we have now, we’re taking a lot of steps forward in terms of growing the game and marketing the game. But a lot of times if it’s picked up by news agencies or carriers that aren’t really hockey affiliates, the only things that they broadcast or showcase are the hits or the dirty plays and stuff like that. A lot of people who aren’t real hockey fans -- who are just common fans -- that’s all they see."