Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Actions need to match talk on head shots
By Scott Burnside
Just once, it would be nice if the NHL followed up its best intentions with actions that didn't immediately generate ridicule, outrage and a collective throwing up of one's arms in disgust.
Just once that would be nice.
It would have been nice, in the wake of two more reckless, dangerous, on-ice plays that targeted players' heads, to be able to sit down and laud the NHL for having come out and proven with action that it really does care about what happens to the game's most important assets.
Vancouver's Raffi Torres did not receive any further NHL discipline after hitting Chicago's Brent Seabrook in Sunday's Game 3.
In a week in which we heard the NHL refer to some mysterious video that apparently legitimizes knocking a player's block off as long as it's somewhere behind the net (not sure if they call it the "kill zone" on this apparently rarely seen video, but they could) to explain why it didn't suspend Raffi Torres (again), the NHL announced Tuesday afternoon Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie were each suspended for one game in the playoffs for plays in Monday's game in Tampa.
One game. Sixty minutes, give or take time for overtime. About three hours. Less time than the NHL GMs met in one session talking about the need to make the game safer and come down harder on players who don't follow the rules.
Now, if the whole hockey world wasn't being bombarded by the NHL's assertions that it is all about reducing blows to the head and making the game safer and punishing repeat offenders, maybe one game would have been enough.
But Kunitz's sneaky elbow to the head of an unsuspecting Simon Gagne and Downie's leaping into the air to destroy Ben Lovejoy along the end boards are merely the latest examples that the players don't get it.
Respect? It's the playoffs; what do you expect? You think players will hold up when they see a guy with his head down? The playoffs are a time of maim or be maimed, and the NHL seems pretty cool with that, or else surely Kunitz and Downie could have waited until the end of the first round to get back into the ring.
Remember when Matt Cooke got 10 games and the first round of the playoffs off for his elbow to the noggin of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh?
Seems like a different world altogether, which isn't surprising given the multiple personality disorder from which the NHL's supplemental discipline process suffers. Sybil? She was single-minded and on task compared to the league's handling of arguably the most important issue it has faced since the lockout.
Cooke was supposed to be the reminder that if you cannot control your actions, you're history.
And when the Cooke suspension was followed not so long after by Torres getting the final two games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs, well, that seemed almost like a pattern.
Then Torres came back and put one of Chicago's top defensemen out of action with a hit that, in spite of the gobbledygook the league put out to explain why it didn't suspend Torres, plainly runs against all the stuff GMs and league executives were talking about in Florida at meetings that at the time seemed as if they might actually make a difference.
Seabrook wasn't scheduled to play in Tuesday's potentially season-ending game against Vancouver. Torres? Sure, get on out there Raffi and just remember, if you're going to decapitate someone, make sure it's in the "magic" zone. Wherever that is.
That returns us to a point we made during those GMs meetings -- that it's time for a change at the top.
No matter how good a guy Colin Campbell is, no matter how much he cares, the past few days have once again revealed the NHL's office of discipline to be unable to stay on topic, sending mixed messages to the fans who pay the freight and the players, coaches and GMs that are trying to figure out just where the lines in the sand are.
Good intentions be damned. Find someone who can come in and, without worrying himself into a knot over the minutiae of every single hit, simply employ the mantra: "If in doubt, throw the book at him."
How could that be any worse than the spectacle this week of a league once again seeing the gap between what it says and what it does grow ever wider?
It's something called credibility, and you'd think the NHL might want to consider getting some when it comes to this issue.
The two teams have combined for 219 hits in three games. There hasn't been an incident that's come close to warranting supplemental discipline. So all those hand wringers, who worry that having the gumption to levy significant suspensions will lead to a more genteel game, need to watch a little bit more closely.
If the league had done the right thing and suspended Torres (again), then given a three or four playoff-game suspension to Kunitz and Downie, maybe we'd be onto something here.
Just once that would have been something to write about.