Thursday, March 18, 2010

The ball is in your court, NHL

Everyone's been talking about the Bruins and Penguins game tonight. EVERYONE. I mean, even ESPN (you know, the network that dropped NHL hockey because people stopped watching).

This is a coast to coast news story, in both the US and Canada.

This is a game that will be televised nationally in the US (granted, on the NHL Network, which doesn't have quite the same oomph of NBC, but that's for another post).

And what does the NHL do?

Drop the ball. At least so far.

According to, both NHL head disciplinarian and famed balldropper Colin Campbell, and director of officiating Terry Gregson will not only be in attendance, but will also speak to both GMs, head coaches, and locker rooms prior to tonight's matchup. Why? "In an effort to keep things under control."

So the NHL is in a position where it has one of its biggest stars and an Original 6 team involved in a game making this much press in the US. And it's swift response to is attempt to quell one of its biggest draws before it even has a chance to develop.

And no folks, for once, I'm not talking about fighting. I'm talking about rivalries. Remember when the Red Wings and Avalanche had a real rivalry? One that was marketed so well in the US and had passive Americans turning on their televisions to hockey. Well, it started because of this hit. Matt Cooke's hit wasn't nearly as gruesome, but we will see how many more games Savard misses compared to Draper. That should fuel the fire in Beantown, amongst the fans, players, coaches, management, and ownership. But the NHL is striving to avoid this fire at all costs.

Does the league not know what's good for it? This is one of the first times that America is paying attention to hockey in a long time. And for good reason. We want blood, we want carnage, but most of all, we want a good hockey game. Not a game with a marathon to the penalty box in the first period because of iffy interference calls, resulting in three quick power play goals. We want a good back and forth game, with strong forechecking, some fights, and most importantly, the referees' whistles in their pockets.

But we all know that'll never happen. Because the NHL is its own worst enemy.


In other news, kudos to James Wisniewski for rocking Brent Seabrook. There probably should have been a penalty call on the original hit given the standard of officiating in the NHL (it was a high hit on Perry), but since there wasn't, Wisniewski took justice into his own hands. He knew Seabrook wasn't going to fight, so he made sure he felt the punishment for his crime.

Kudos to Duncan Keith for stepping up for his partner. Keith entered the game with four fights in his NHL career, including one in the preseason, for a whopping .010 fights per game. Wisniewski isn't exactly Bob Probert, but he has a decent amount of fights (14 in 248 games, or .056 per game). Wis isn't exactly fighting scrubs either. Not the best card out there, but he's not known as a fighter.

Not sure why this wasn't called an instigator, as this was the textbook definition of the penalty:

47.11 Instigator - An instigator of an altercation shall be a player or goalkeeper who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

Not that I'm complaining. Keith did the right thing, and for once, the referees let the players take care of their own, for the good of the game.

Eight games is pretty stiff in my book, but his hit was malicious. I don't understand though; Cooke doesn't get suspended even though he blindsided somebody, Ovechkin gets suspended for hitting someone who saw him coming from behind/the side, and Wisniewski hit someone who was looking right at him. The first two resulted in severe injuries; the second one resulted in a minor injury that probably won't cause any games missed.

In the first case, the NHL chose not to suspend a dirty player who acted with some degree of malice and caused a major injury. In the second case, the NHL chose to suspend a questionable player who acted with no malice and caused a major injury. In the third case, the NHL chose to suspend a clean and responsible player who acted out of character, with malice, and caused a minor injury.

I understand suspending for malicious intent, but I think this is a bit much. I'd rather see no suspension, since no injury occurred, but a hefty fine instead for recklessness. It's a tough call, but the standard is unclear on this one.

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