I’ll be completely honest.
When the NHL resumed after that spectacle of amazing hockey we saw during the Olympics, it took me a few games to get back into the swing. Actually, to tell you the truth, league hockey was pretty much boring me to sleep.
But I’m feeling 100 per cent physically again and am fully re-engaged and ready to embark on my favourite time of year, hockey playoffs. Of course the actual post season is a few weeks away still but for many teams – with the new parody of the league it’s probably most teams – crunch time has long begun.
And simply because of the sheer numbers, we could be in for one of the best regular-season finishes ever. Will Detroit miss the playoffs, ending 18-straight years and the longest active playoff streak in North American professional sports? A 2-1 win over the Flames says no but their lead over Calgary sits at just three.
Who will claim the final spots in the East? An explosive restart after the Olympics for the Habs makes a statement, but teams I cheer for don’t stand much chance in the grand scheme so only time will tell.
Even the bottom of the heap is fun to watch, as we all watch the Taylor Hall sweepstakes. Of course the lottery ensures last place won’t be a lock for No. 1 but that doesn’t stop us from wondering about stuff like if Edmonton will finally get some luck or if Toronto will be watching Beantown take Hall with the Leafs’ pick.
But with everything great about the league right now and all the races and drama coming down the stretch, the stories garnering the most attention – at least in the U.S., where we seem to want the game to grow so badly – are the suspensions (or lack there of) resulting from dirty hits.
Most notably of course is the Great Eight Alex Ovechkin, who pushed Chicago’s Brian Campbell from behind at full speed into the boards, breaking his clavicle and ribs. But two others – Montreal’s Max Lapierre on the Sharks’ Scott Nichol and Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on the Bruins’ Marc Savard – occurred in almost the same week and when all three resulted in different punishments, the debate began.
Let’s start with Lapierre because he probably received a punishment closest to the level of his crime. The mouthy Canadien blatantly pushed Nichol from behind into the boards, knocking Nichol out for 7-10 days.
Lapierre smirked on the bench afterwards, showing zero remorse for being a total disgrace to the greatest sport on earth, and got tagged with a four-game suspension. The fact is Lapierre is a no-name player who just gets playing time in the league because he plays like a pest. Only he’s terrible at it, runs from physicality after the whistle and hasn’t contributed on the score sheet in any real positive fashion all season.
Basically, he’s easy to hit big. They could have given him lots more and no one would have complained.
Matt Cooke, who put his shoulder so square into the temple of Savard that the small Bruin playmaker likely won’t go a day without a headache until Christmas, is just barely a step up from Lapierre and could have been hit hard and fast by the league.
Instead, however, the NHL gives him nothing. Not one single game. In fact, Cooke didn’t even sit for two minutes or less in the penalty box.
And I know that clearly means the league agrees with the referee’s call that the hit was clean but you can be the judge:
Now I’m fine with being disagreed with so if you also find that hit to be clean, please let me know in the comments section. But if you could just make sure to include the exact words the league should say to the family of the first player who doesn’t wake up from a hit like that, I would appreciate it.
Finally, we have Ovechkin, whose hit was much like Lapierre’s, though Ovy’s clearly didn’t have the same malicious intent and it looked like he wished it hadn’t happened afterwards. But Ovechkin is a repeat offender and the hit was about as dirty as he’s had. Yet he gets two games.
Now I’ve already come out in support of taking the injury out of the equation because some guys can take more punishment than others and that doesn’t change the dirtiness of the play. However, at the speed in which Campbell hit those boards, I can’t think of too many athletes who could have escaped without similar injuries, if not much worse.
Not to mention the fact Ovechkin just took out one of the top defencemen on possibly the biggest competition Washington might face in a Stanley Cup final.
I guess my question in all of this is, how is one of these any less terrible than the other? And then my second question is, how do they decide on these suspensions in the first place? We’re always told of these hearings with Colin Campbell, who then hands out a ruling, but what the hell does that really mean? Does he think he’s fooling people with these calls?
There can only be so many explanations to this. Maybe Campbell’s under pressure from something at home and is too distracted to make rational decisions. Maybe he’s a drinker. Or maybe he doesn’t decide on suspensions at all and maybe they have that monkey from TSN come in to spin a wheel. (Maggie, not Cybulski.)
The point is, while you can’t just write a rule book to govern all these hits because they differ so much, you can certainly show consistency, especially with incidents so close together.
This double standard and wishy-washy way of running a league will only make them look stupid and then the NHL’s already-fragile reputation will be down the toilet for good.
And how far can that really be away? My cousin sent me a message today essentially comparing the league’s officiating to the CFL.
Need I say more?