Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The State of the NHL

We interrupt our awards presentation to discuss real live hockey issues.  Read below as my co-editor discusses his feelings on violence in hockey. -Dru

I am a conflicted hockey fan.

I love hockey. I love the speed. I love the skill: the passing, the shooting, the skating, and I marvel at the athletic abilities of the players who can do all of these things at top speed. I love the camaraderie and the team-first attitude. I love that when a player scores, the first thing he does is look around for his teammates, who pile on for the hockey hug. And I love the look of unbridled joy on the guys' faces throughout the whole moment.

I also love the violence. The hitting. The guys that pay for every inch of ice they gain with sweat and tears. The guy that holds the puck for that extra second, even though can see the a 200-pound opponent coming to hit him, to line up that perfect pass so a his teammate can bury it. The fighting. The guys who come to bat for their teammates to exact a pound of flesh for a cheap shot.

That last paragraph has become rather difficult for me to reconcile with the events of the past couple weeks of playoff hockey. As much as I love to watch a good old fashioned donniebrook, even I felt sick to my stomach after the Flyers/Penguins game last Sunday. Sometime between Arron Asham's attempt at crushing Brayden Schenn's windpipe, and James Neal taking two separate runs at two different guys on the same shift, I just felt disgusted.

And that was just the latest in a sequence of distressing events in this year's first round. There was also Shea Weber using the glass to try to crack open Henrik Zetterberg's head like a coconut. There's the Boston Bruins taking shots at Nick Backstrom's head at every possible opportunity. But that Pens/Flyers game was what finally put me over the top. What finally made me realize that this is not hockey.

This is not the game I love. Hell, it's not even the kind of violence I like to see. This is not guys making life difficult for their opponents through hard-nosed, physical play. What this is, plain and simple, is a bunch of guys trying to damage each other.

My hockey coach in high school was a man by the name of Bob Trantin. He taught me a hell of a lot about the game of hockey (and a hell of a lot about life, but that's another discussion). He taught us to play hard and to play physical, but also to play clean. And above all, to respect your opponent.

Respect. That's the key word here. And it's a concept that seems to be missing in today's NHL. At the very simplest level, you don't try to murder the guys you're playing against because you don't want them to murder you. For me in high school (and millions of other people in the world), hockey was simply a hobby. For these guys in the NHL, it's a job. A VERY well-paying job. I would think none of those guys out there playing tonight, whether amateur or professional, want to wake up tomorrow morning unable to keep playing hockey. So why, suddenly, does it seem like so many of these guys in the NHL seem to have so little qualm with putting other players' careers in jeopardy? Growing up, I always thought of hockey players as warriors. Guys who give it all they've got out there, every shift, every game, playing as hard as they can. But playing with honor. Lately, though, the honor seems to be absent. These guys aren't warriors anymore. They're thugs, using cheap shots and underhanded tactics to win at all costs. Clearly, the Code is dead.

So what can the league do to get guys to respect each other again? Well, my idea is to play off that team-first attitude I talked about in my intro. I'll use Raffi Torres' hit on Marian Hossa last night as an example. Torres charged Hossa, left his feet, and launched himself into Hossa's head. Hossa had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher. The league should of course suspend Torres. And for good measure, they should suspend Keith Yandle along with him. As another example, Asham got 4 games for trying to kill Brayden Schenn. How about the league also suspends Evgeni Malkin for 4 games as well?

Of course, that's not fair. Yandle and Malkin didn't do anything; why should they be punished? Well, even if the guys taking runs at people clearly don't give a rat's ass about their opponents, we can only hope they still care about their team and their teammates. Perhaps if Torres and Asham knew that taking liberties was not only going to result in their suspension, but also in the suspension of one of their teams' top players, they'd think twice about taking a run at somebody. If not for their opponents' sake, than for the sake of their own teams' chances.

Of course, all of the above would be dependent on NHL Officiating in general and Brendan Shanahan in particular pulling their collective heads out of their asses. Until that happens, there is simply no hope.

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