Things That Don’t Belong in the Game

Last night, in a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, Braydon Coburn cross-checked Nikolai Antropov in the head (h/t to Puck Daddy).

Asked about a possible suspension, Flyers coach John Stevens said this:

“I would hope not. I asked him what happened and he thought he hit him more with his glove than anything else.”

Obviously, Stevens isn’t going to hang his player out to dry. Out of curiosity, though, what’s the difference between that play and the hit by Jesse Boulerice on Ryan Kesler? Both hits were cross-checks to the head, both were well away from the play, and both featured a Philadelphia Flyer retaliating against a player that had aggravated him earlier in the game (Antropov high-sticked Coburn, Kesler hooked and slashed Boulerice).

The obvious difference, of course, is the name of the player involved. We’ve seen the NHL’s double-standard at work repeatedly over the years (the best example probably being the suspensions handed out to Chris Simon and Chris Pronger for similar incidents).

It’s been a funny month for the NHL – the thirty G.M.’s recommended a rule change that would crack down on fighting, and certain people in the hockey world feel that it should be taken out of the game entirely. Meanwhile, Paul Kelly and the NHLPA submitted a proposal that would see shoulder checks to the head penalized; the objective being to prevent “clean” hits like the one that sidelined Brandon Sutter.

Does anyone else find it odd that two plays that have been a legitimate part of hockey for years are seeing movements to curtail them, but at the same time it seems like we have a stick to the head incident at least once a season? Aside from the Flyers incident above, there was Alexander Perezhogin’s hit on Garrett Stafford, and Chris Simon’s slash on Ryan Hollweg. It’s only a matter of time before one of these incidents kills or seriously injures somebody – and the worst part of it is, these aren’t hockey plays, these are assaults. Admittedly, the Coburn incident isn’t as brutal as some of these others, but he’s still using his stick to hit a guy in the head far away from the puck.

It isn’t a play that should be tolerated in any of its forms. The NHL has removed non-hockey plays from the game with harsh disciplinary rules before – things like contact with the referee, line brawls and the like have been completely eliminated from the game. In my opinion, intentionally hitting a guy in the head with a stick should fall into that category as well, and I think the best way to do it is obvious. Institute a new rule this summer, with a mandatory suspension for those sorts of plays. Make it a career damaging suspension – at least 25 games, possibly as long as 82 games.

There isn’t any place in hockey for players who hit people in the head with their stick. At least, there shouldn’t be.

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:
    Well I am not going to debate your memory even though I think it is embelished.

    As I alluded earlier there is no misunderstanding that the game was perfect 20, 30 or how ever many years ago. That isn't what I am going for.

    Although the methods have evolved there is no doubt, in my mind anyways, that players are just as eager to inflict damage today as they have been at any times. They're just less blatant in most cases.

    Now the respect that I speak of goes beyond respect between players and is in regards to the game itself. All these tweaks and adjustments have and will continue to result in a new kind of rat that uses the various crackdowns to draw the phantom calls and or stage a situation that embelishes the play. That doesn't make the game more enjoyable or better from any integrity standpoint.

    And no that isn't suggesting that guys didn't do it in the past, it's the degree that of which guys are doing it that has become so engrained that we now accept it as part of the game. It's bushleague, particularily when guys still try to talk about playing the game with some sort of honour.

    So given that incidents will always occur, the question becomes is it better to have incidents with reprocussions on the ice or incidents along with all the tweaking and unintended consequences that come with it.

  • Hippy

    @ Rick:
    I believe the game has, and will, continue to evolve naturally. I believe league interference has limited effect on this natural evolution. There isn't much of a public appetite for the Broadstreet Bully brand of hockey that was so prevelent in the 70's and 80's… Things that use to regularly happen, are simply no longer tolerated. Injuries, penalties, etc aren't good yardsticks to use when measuring relative aggression… Let's consider attitude: Players used to play with HATE for the opposition. (Read some archived interviews by Gordie Howe, or Bobby Clarke) As time passed, a guy like Messier, would be described as a player who, "hates to lose." Today, hate is a word that is never used. Thanks to modern media, players know that a single indescretion will live forever, readily available, on the internet. Players today also know that they embarrass; rather than impress, their own organization and fans when they get involved in some of the sheanigans that was once commonplace. Do players have more respect for the game and each other? Probably not; but they sure do respect the potential consequences of illegally ending someone's career.

  • Hippy

    To this day I am still pissed Stafford did not get the same penalty as Perezoghin. Yeah I know he could have killed you Alex! Yeah I know the intent was the same. But we are going to suspend you because you proved europeans are more acurate with the stick. Thats why we are suspending you. You turned a visious boy into a P****.

    I played a sport were I dished it out but expected to get it back and I did. Don't play a style you can not protect yourself from. Point. Keep your head on a swivel.

  • Hippy

    Of all the people who deserved there shot it was Hollweg. That diving act was a disgrace to the league. Heck I bet Holweggs old man beat him more.

    Ps: these last two comments were desgned to reflect the quality and integrity of the leagues decisions.