March 25, 2012

NHL Needs Stronger Response To Deliberate Head Shots

The Vancouver Canucks Stanley Cup hopes in 2012 have taken a serious blow. It could be as serious as the blow Duncan Keith delivered to Daniel Sedin's head.

By now you know the story. In retaliation to an earlier hit, Chicago's ace defenseman Duncan either delivered a premeditated elbow directly to Daniel's head. Even Don Cherry called Keith's low blow one of the "worst cheap shots of all time."

Sedin's initial hit was bad, as his shoulder made contact with Keith's head. But it was a hockey play. A two minute penalty is the NHL standard there, and he deserved it.

But what he did not deserve was Duncan Keith's premeditated attack in retaliation. Daniel did not even have the puck, making any physical contact illegal let alone an elbow Macho Man Savage would have been proud of.

Daniel, arguably the Canucks best player, is out indefinitely with a concussion. If he is not back early in the playoffs, the Canucks might not last long enough for him to make a come back this season. You never can tell with these brain injuries. Remember Sidney Crosby was initially diagnosed as day-to-day with his concussion problems. A year and a half later he is just getting back on the ice.

Keith's penalty (beyond the botched 2 minute minor call by Dan O'Halloran, the same referee who allowed Brad Marchand to punch Daniel in the Stanley Cup Final) is a 5 game suspension. That is about right based on NHL standards. However NHL standards do absolutely nothing to deter players from such attacks again.

He forfeits $150,000 in salary, but with his $72 million contract, he'll get by one way or another. More importantly, Keith missing five games is a huge blessing in disguise for the Blackhawks. Keith plays more minutes per game on average than any other player in the league. His streaky play is directly due to the Hawks need to overuse the former Norris trophy defenseman. Five games rest right before the playoffs is a Godsend. If the Hawks are really lucky they will lose of a couple of those games without Keith, stay in 6th place and avoid either Detroit or Nashville in the first round. Of course, if hockey fans are really lucky, the Hawks could slip to 7th and face none other than the Canucks in round one!

The NHL needs to come up with a better way of punishing these premeditated attacks. One of its' greatest stars is out with a brain injury. It was not an injury as the result of a hockey play, but a downright dirty assault. The NHL has lost the superstar likes of Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine, Keith Primeau, Chris Pronger and very nearly Sidney Crosby. Dealing with hockey plays resulting in head injuries is a real toughie, but deliberate attacks to the head need much stiffer penalties than a five game suspension.

Slap Shots:

- Remind me again why everyone clamors for more toughness in the Canucks line up? If you read the Chicago media and listen to their fans, Daniel Sedin deserved what he got because he is a monster like Milan Lucic. The Windy City media has their fans believing Daniel is a head hunter who dangerously launches himself into opponents all the time. For Daniel it was his 21st hit of the season, which ranks him 406 of 585 forwards who have played this season, and pretty much dead last among forwards who have played the whole season.

I make a point of reading the opposition's newspaper websites regularly. The quality of so-called journalism is appalling. It is particularly bad among the American media, which somehow does not surprise, but Canadian papers are not exempt. And sports radio has long been just brutal. It is interesting how professional sports franchises have such magical influence over the media. The teams, the players and the coaches all know what their marketplace wants to hear, and they feed it to them. In doing so they perpetuate a lot of falsehoods around the league.

- The Canucks physical response was good to see. One of the falsehoods we just talked about is that the Canucks can be intimidated, so the response was more important than the win. Though it did not satisfy all observers. Zack Kassian made his presence felt and Alex Burrows tried to headlock Duncan Keith into submission. But a lot of fans were left longing for the days when Gino Odjick kept the opposition honest for the Canucks. One night a bare-chested Gino took on all comers in St. Louis all on the same shift.

- Two key traits were overlooked that game due to all the fireworks. 1) just how good Roberto Luongo was and 2) just how porous the Canucks defensive play continues to be. The Hawks were the better team that night, and deserved the win.

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