There is a lame sports joke hockey fans will be very familiar with that non-hockey people love to toss out whenever anyone tries to talk about the game. "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out" and after a few stupid chuckles, hockey fans roll their eyes at the ignorant fools. This year's playoffs thus far has provided those same ignorant fools with an example that the 'joke' may not just that, in fact it may actually be an accurate statement. I love the NHL, and I love just about all parts of the game today. I love the speed, skill, the physicality and in the playoffs all of those things are all amplified. Normally, in the playoffs fights are few and far between; and while the stupid scrums of pushing and shoving near the creases are a sign of the post-season you don't often see teams pairing off as much as they have this year. So why have we had more fisticuffs in the playoffs this year? Maybe it has to do with incidents like this?
I am not going to say that fighting has no place in the game, or that the league needs to change its rulebook. In fact, I am well aware of why fights occur and the unwritten 'Code' that the players utilize. Fighting does not occur just because two players hate another. Often its about sending messages but I wonder if the NHL ever really considered the message it sent with this non-suspension of Nashville's Shea Weber for his turnbuckle slam of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg. Considering all of the discussion of hits to the head this seemed like a slam dunk for a suspension right? Nope, NHL Safety Czar Brendan Shanahan just levied a paltry $2,500 fine. The message sent by the league was loud and clear.
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NHL players cannot look to the league to protect their safety, so you're going to have to do it yourself. It was no coincidence that in the very next game between the Red Wings and Predators that Todd Berttuzzi challenged and dropped the gloves with Weber. I am definitely not a fan of Bertuzzi, but his reaction was in following with the code. Thankfully he didn't do what he did in 2004 when he was trying to 'settle a score' like you can see in the clip below. Yet the overall idea is rather similar, if the league wasn't going to step in be swift and strict in its discipline the players were going to take matters into their own hands so to speak. Yet does the league really want to invite another Steve Moore incident; he never played the game again.
Then Rogers' Sportsnet broadcaster (current CBC play by play man) Jim Hughson talks about how Bertuzzi's sucker punch was just one of a series of attempts to rough up Moore previously. Because of those attempts to punish Moore physically did not have the desired result, which included a fight with the Canucks' Matt Cooke, Bertuzzi decided to take action by himself. Shanahan did not help his cause when he issued a two-game suspension to Vancouver's Byron Bitz for boarding. So the message was confusing to say the least. Whether it was his intention or not, the idea that a star player like Weber gets a fine but a role player like Bitz gets a suspension certainly does not send a message of consistency. It implies clearly that if you're a star you get fined but if you're a 4th liner get ready for a league mandated scratch from the roster for a few games (or more). However, did this really stop those players from looking to settle disputes on their own? Watch this clip from last night's Rangers vs. Senators game.
As MSG's Pat Michelletti' clearly articulates, Ottawa's Matt Carkner was looking for his pound of flesh after Brian Boyle delivered a big hit to Erik Karlsson during their last game. So again its an incident of the players attempting to police the game themselves since the league has been so inconsistent. Carkner is now going to face a hearing before the NHL's Safety Department headed by Shanahan, but based on the league's earlier decisions because Carkner is a role player we'll probably see a suspension but so what? If the league's stars can more or less get away with this kind of thuggery the incidents will continue. Was Carkner's intent really that much different than Bertuzzi? After he knocked down Boyle, Carkner continued to fired punches while he laid on the ice. I am not going to say that there needs to be criminal charges filed against Carkner or anything that extreme, but I would argue that the main difference between the Moore incident and this was that Brian Boyle wasn't seriously injured. Yet is the league a little bit culpable for creating this environment?
Has Brendan Shanahan lost all credibility?
As I watch Game 3 of the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators and hearing a serenade of boo's every time Shea Weber touches the puck, perhaps those boo's should be saved for the league for being so indecisive on these issues. I know the league walks a fine line with allowing strong physical play while trying to be watchful of player safety, but not giving Weber a suspension really opened up Pandora's box. Playoff games are really where the money is made for the league's owners and while they would argue they need their star players playing, but if the league isn't going to provide the necessary enforcement of its rules then the players are going to police themselves.
An argument can be made that is the way it should be, but does it really make for a better game to watch to see players maul each other in the post-season? Inconsistency was something that marred the credibility of Colin Campbell and many hoped Shanahan would bring stability to the league's disciplinary offices. Yet as this post-season suspension flow chart from DownGoesBrown shows you, it seems to still defy logic.
Maybe its just me, perhaps if the league did its job and stayed consistent perhaps we (fans) could focus more on the greatness of the games then spending lots of time discussing whether or not (insert player here) should or should not be suspended. Anyone who watched Game 3, between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia can see just how the NHL has lost control. The inmates are running the asylum. There really is nothing better than the NHL playoffs, but the league should try to avoid becoming the very joke that hockey fans loathe.