April 18, 2012
Wrestling With Head Shots, Dirty Play
What is the biggest story of the 2012 NHL playoffs so far?
Is it the collapse of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Vancouver Canucks? Or how about the great series between Detroit and Nashville, or St. Louis and San Jose? Perhaps it is Claude Giroux's big game, or Henrik Lundqvist's great goaltending? Or how about the rise of unexpected heroes like Brian Boyle or Gabriel Bourque?
No. The biggest stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs involve suspensions and stretchers. Tied in with all that is NHL refereeing incompetence and NHL head office impotence. The NHL seems either unable or worse yet unwilling to do anything about it.
It seems every series features several nasty incidents of head shots and thuggery. Hey, I love playoff wars as much as anyone, but this has gone too far. And hey, why not? The Boston Bruins got away with it and won the Stanley Cup last season. And with the early failure to suspend Shea Weber for the most ridiculous he intentional head shots, the league has sent a clear message - do whatever you have to win, no matter what the cost. Just don't criticize the refs or the league through the media. Then you will be fined heavily.
The worse part is NHL referees did not even see Raffi Torres annihilate Marian Hossa. Did they at least see him carried off on a stretcher and head to the hospital? Did they really believe Duncan Keith did not fully intend to injure NHL scoring champ Daniel Sedin just before the playoffs? And since when are players allowed to impersonate George "The Animal" Steele and ram another man's head into the glass turnbuckle style?
It's almost as if the refs are handing these hot potatoes over to the NHL head office. They don't want to be the difference maker, so let them deal with it. But NHL owners and managers have effectively neutered sheriff Brendan Shanahan. He rode into town at the beginning of the season promising change and delivering on it. But the owners quickly did not like that, so they have reduce Shanny's power to ridiculous levels. How low? Not only did Shea Weber not get a suspension for driving Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass with every intention of hurting him, but now the sport is routinely compared to the WWE. That is a bad thing. But when the WWE jokes about your sport in return, it's even worse!
To the NHL's credit they must be nearing some sort of record for number of players. Yet it is nowhere near enough. It seems the NHL would rather have a season without Sidney Crosby and a playoff without Sedin, Hossa and Zetterberg than do the right thing. They would rather make headlines for the wrong reasons and let them disappear than make headlines for the right reasons and crack down on the game's problems.
Eventually the NHL will change their ways and do the right thing. Unfortunately the only way it seems they will is when the worst headline possible will happen - and it will, again, someday, mark my words - "NHL Player Dies On Ice."