Time for NHL and players to step up

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
4:08
PM ET

Wouldn't it be nice if we had just one night in the NHL when a player didn't go off the farm and behave like an idiot?

Just one night.

And instead of saying all the right things about the need for respect and the like, wouldn't it be nice if players actually walked the walk and talked about how every incident like the one Wednesday night -- when James Wisniewski rammed an unsuspecting Brent Seabrook into the end glass in defense of a teammate -- diminishes everyone connected to the game?

Frankly, we're sick of hearing about "the code" and "honor," because watching Wisniewski leave Seabrook wobbling and finally tumbling onto the ice with what is believed to be a concussion suggests the code is found only in the phone book and honor is a ghost in this new NHL.

Wisniewski's gutless attempt to even the score after Seabrook had leveled Corey Perry a few seconds earlier diminishes Perry and Seabrook alike. It suggests Perry can't take a hit. It suggests vengeance trumps everything, even when your team is scrambling to make the playoffs.

The code? What kind of code suggests it is OK to launch yourself into a player who doesn't have the puck and ram his head into the glass?

Should Seabrook have been penalized for a hit that saw Perry being spun headfirst into the boards earlier in the play? Likely. Did Seabrook deserve what he got from Wisniewski? In this NHL, this is what sadly passes for respect, for justice.

Anaheim ended up beating Chicago on Wednesday night, but its playoff chances are modest at best. So, maybe Wisniewski had little to lose in going after Seabrook to defend his teammate; unless you're talking about self-respect and the image of the game, qualities that sadly seem to diminish with every passing night in this new NHL, a league suddenly bereft of respect and something called honor.

The worst part? It wasn't the only play of its kind Wednesday night.

Rod Pelley, a marginal NHLer with two goals in 54 games this season for New Jersey, drove Pittsburgh's Alex Goligoski headfirst into the boards and is fortunate that Goligoski was able to skate away, or we'd be arguing which pinheaded play was more sickening.

And all this is against the backdrop of Thursday's potential grudge match between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins after Matt Cooke likely ended Marc Savard's season with a blindside hit to the head, a game that has featured stern warnings from the league about retribution.

Now, you can argue that the league's policy of discipline is so whacked that players believe taking the law into their own hands is their only course of action in terms of seeing justice done. That may be partially true. We've made that argument about the NHL ourselves; the NHL has never been more disorganized, so paralyzed, in how it needs to respond to mayhem on the ice.

But at some point, wouldn't it be nice if the players actually spoke up and said, "Hey, we can't have this." After all, it is their game, too, no?

We'd suggest it would be nice for the NHL Players' Association to step forward and make a loud and clear statement on behalf of the players -- those who think the game needs to grow and not regress into some state of barbarism on blades that we have seen in just a few weeks since the Olympic break -- but these past few weeks illustrate just how irrelevant the union has made itself.

By imploding during the summer with the firing of executive director Paul Kelly and the departure of key personnel such as Glenn Healy and Pat Flatley and the subsequent departure of dishonored former legal counsel Ian Penny, the NHLPA has been rendered mute, a giant vessel bobbing in a sea of discontent. And the union is now searching for its third leader since the lockout.

We often talk about the alleged partnership between the league and the players that was born of the lockout, how the players and owners share in the fortunes of the game, both good and bad. We talk about the need for the two sides to work in concert with the owners to promote the game and help it grow in sometimes fallow ground.

But if the players want to be treated like equals, if they want to be taken seriously as stewards of the game, maybe they should start to take ownership for their own membership.

We talked to Ottawa Senators center Jason Spezza, a member of the competition committee that ultimately has the power to accept or deny modifications to the game, including rule changes. He said initially that he thinks the issue of respect and dangerous hits might have been overblown by the media. Then, Spezza suggested it was up to the league to weed out those players who are involved in these dangerous plays.

"There's some guys in the league, they're in the league because they play on that edge and teams are looking for guys like that," he said Thursday. "I think it's up to the league to enforce, to show those guys they can't run around and have no consequences.

"Now it seems like that kind of rat player is really protected, and we have to try to unprotect that guy because he's an effective player but also a dangerous player."

Perhaps Spezza is correct, but it sounds like more than a little cop-out to lay it all at the feet of the league. Players like Spezza and, yes, players like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews and Kimmo Timonen and Nicklas Lidstrom, and even players with spotty histories but big profiles like Chris Pronger and, dare we say it, Alex Ovechkin, can't be afraid to stand up and say, "This isn't how we want our game to look; this isn't how players should be treating one another. This has got to stop."

Instead, we wait for an update on Seabrook and how long he might be out of action, while the NHL suspended Wisniewski eight games on Thursday.

And we wait and see what new carnage the night will bring.

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