What has changed in the last few months? What has changed since Brendan Shanahan gloriously took over as the NHL’s disciplinarian, promising much stricter action? The only noticeable one has been that things have not gotten better or even stayed the same, they have gotten worse. Blindside hits and cheap-shots never seemed to be a problem until the last couple of seasons, prompting a change and an ushering in of the new era of safer hockey. Suspensions would be handed out like candy to children at a carnival, and because of it, dangerous hits would stop, and the offenders would gradually find themselves out of a job. Well, as most teams near the 50 game mark in this safe hockey haven, thanks to the tireless efforts of Shanahan and league officials, do you feel that the status quo has changed at all? When your favorite players skate near the boards, do you feel any safer watching them?
Concussions have been an epidemic in the league this season, whether they were caused by dangerous hits, unintentional collisions, or freakish accidents. Maybe out of direct correlation or not, blindside hits and dangerous plays have also increased, and it seems a respect for one’s opponent is at an all-time low. We have seen it all season, courtesy of the replays being shown ad nauseum in highlight reels on the NHL Network, and now, most popularly of all, when Shanahan releases one of his gimmicky videos explaining why a certain suspension is to be handed out. These replays and techy breakdowns have only become a mask for the sport, to make it seem like the right people are doing their jobs, and that things really are getting better. However, the only purpose they really have served is to hide the fact that there are more scumbags in this league, now more than ever before, and they are not going away any time soon.
Perhaps even more dangerous than a blindside hit to the head, or the smashing of an opponent face-first into the glass, is what we call a “slew-foot”, an act when a player skates up behind another and deliberately kicks the feet out from under him. Multiple risks are involved here, which include, but are not limited to a player slamming his head or shoulder into the ice, and even that player’s feet flying up in the air as he falls backwards, putting razor sharp skate blades at throat level, if only for a fleeting second. We saw this Thursday night, in the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, forward Matt Cooke of Pittsburgh, who nearly found himself out of the league last season for multiple suspensions, committing a slew-foot on Brad Richards of the Rangers. You can probably gather that it went undetected by the referees, who saw it in full view, and the league after the game—how convenient. Then, the next night, it was a Penguins player to be the victim of such a play, when the Montreal Canadiens’ reckless defenseman and perpetrator, P.K Subban, did it to Chris Kunitz. After the game, a severe punishment of a $2,500 fine was dolled out. My, what a lesson he learned there!
As a side note, it is quite comical to watch Penguins’ fans up in arms whenever one of their players is attacked, because their own players have committed their fair share of dirt. You can even go back to the 2008 playoffs, when Evgeni Malkin enacted a vicious slew-foot on Rangers’ defenseman Paul Mara, another play that went undetected, with not even so much as a minor penalty for tripping. Malkin has become the sly cheap-shot master, constantly doing things behind the backs of the officials (or do they know all about it and just let it slide?).
Back to the topic at hand, today we had another chance to see a dirty play, when Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins slammed Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers head-first into the glass. McDonagh was lucky, as replay shows his head did not hit the boards on initial impact, but rather his shoulder and upper body. There currently is no word on the injury, but it stunned him bad enough that he was down on the ice and unable to get up for several minutes. This was such a cheap play, committed by a veteran of nearly 700 games. Should he not have known better? Of course, but why did he still commit to the hit? The game was in overtime, tied at two goals a piece. It was a hard-fought battle in a game filled with hits and one fight. It was a matchup between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, in a fight for first place, and instead of talking about how the Rangers won such an intense game (ironically, on a goal scored on the ensuing powerplay), despite being outplayed and outmatched for much of the contest, here we are, talking about yet another injury and another dirty play. Oh, but I thought the league was safer now?
Not to convey a pro-Ranger bias here, even after seeing one of my favorite players crumpled up on the ice, the suspension for Andrew Ference needs to be severe, and I would be saying that if this hit had occurred by anyone on anyone. I hate to use the phrase, “Make an example out of him”, but are we not at that point? How many times has this same scenario happened, over and over and over again? I do not write about hockey much on this blog anymore, but it seems that every month I am calling for the league to take action or do something to stop plays like this. What wake-up call do these players need? What will get the job done? Will a 10 game suspension send a message? No, probably not, so how harsh does it need to be? It’s a shame that we cannot answer this question, thanks to the results of other previous hits. Part of me says he will only get a game or two, which is merely a slap on the wrist. The other part of me says that I, along with many others, will be disappointed no matter what.
There are many people involved in the sport of hockey who want to get rid of fights and severely reduce, or even eliminate, every kind of hitting. I have always been against that, and always will be, but it is the checks like this that give fodder to the people who make that argument. After all, we are 33 suspensions and 18 fines into the 2011/12 season and nothing has changed—nothing has gotten any better. How long before hitting has to be erased all together? Is there any other course the league can take? Because I fear that the people in charge are going to spit the bit on this once again.
Before the Rangers’ broadcast, MSG Network showed an interview with the Bruins’ Marc Savard, who has not played in a year due to post-concussion syndrome. It deeply saddened me to see such a great player sitting there, possibly facing the end to his career, because he is still unwell and has his bad days, even after such a long time. You would think a story such as that would make players change their antics, but it hasn’t, and pretty soon, more players will face his unfortunate situation.