This is a problem.

I like hitting and fighting in hockey despite two of the game’s parties tugging at me.

One tells me I don’t like it enough. I contribute to the “pansification” (not a word) of the game. I WANT to make it golf on skates. I want to ruin it.

One tells me I like it too much. I am base. I am the gawking mass. The one demanding people’s brains be sacrificed for my entertainment. I AM ruining it.

I disagree with both of them. I don’t think I need to proclaim my love for the bench clearing brawls of the ’70s to prove my testosterone levels. I don’t think I’m part of a gang of miscreants who wish to turn a game on ice into a zombie extravaganza. I’m just a guy who likes hockey.

I’ve only been alive for a hair over two decades and I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t know much of anything. I’m too young and I’m too stupid, but I’d like to figure out a thing or two before it’s too late. I’ve made some observations though. A lot of them have to do with hockey. Doing a philosophy degree forces you to spend time on the important things. I do this now.

In a hair over two decades, the game has changed endlessly. Teams, colors, coaches, players, rules have all come in and out of vogue faster than Mike Gartner could get blueline to blueline. The game is constantly in flux. 82 times a year for 30-plus teams the game cycles in this league until one remains and we do it all again in four months.

Change is built into the fabric of the game. Lines change. Possessions change. Pucks change. Sticks change.

Tonight made one thing perfectly clear: something bigger needs to change.

It started a little after 7:00 when mid-conversation in-game I had to stop and say “What the hell is going on?” Ten players formed a pile of sweaters and skates. I didn’t quite get what was up. I’m glad they added replay.

Matt Carkner skated across the defensive zone, dropped his gloves and started punching Brian Boyle in the damn head.

A few minutes later Boyle stopped the game once again to deal with Chris Neil who requested they punch each other.

A little while after that Carl Hagelin stopped the game because he implanted his elbow into Daniel Alfredsson’s head.

This happened a few more times until we called it a game.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis…

A few elbows, a slew foot, a fight, a brawl, and on and on.

Later, in Phoenix…

A goalie lies sprawled behind his net while a kid is shown off.

It was tiring. It was ridiculous. It was awe-inspiring for all the wrong reasons. Yet, the more and more I tried to wrap my head around those five hours of hockey I kept coming back to the first thing I said and realized I had it right off the bat. “What the hell is going on?”

None of that was hockey. Absolutely none of it. Hockey is where you shoot pucks at a net. That part was great. The part that was the WWE masquerading as hockey was complete and utter crap.

I preferred this sport pre-lockout. I loved the grind it out pace. I loved that every single goal meant a lot. I had no problem with ties. I loved that goalies strapped mattresses to their legs and said they were “pads.” It was great. Then the game left and came back and it was different. It took a while to get used to but now I like it just fine.

I’m still fond of Don Cherry. He’s entertaining and I get a kick out of him. He’s a TV character that plays the same role in real life. I’ve met him and he’s a pleasant enough fellow. He doesn’t offend me in the least. I disagree with him on this one.

There was nothing good about the Senators “sticking up” for Erik Karlsson the way they did tonight because I’m not sure which part was sticking up for him. Was it Matt Carkner getting ejected? I could have sworn it was when Chris Neil fought him. Whatever it was, it sure worked. Boyle ONLY scored once tonight and was ONLY one of the best players for his team. It taught the Rangers too. They ONLY retaliated and took out Ottawa’s captain.

I’m sure whatever happens in San Jose and Chicago in game three will be just as useful.

I’m told it was a success because the Sens “stood tall” and got “fired up” which helped them win. That’s odd to me, because I always thought 28 minutes in penalties helps you lose. I also can’t imagine why a player would need to be more fired up for the biggest game of their life.

Gotta love those feel good Ottawa Senators, fighting their way in and everything. Now they’re sticking up for themselves against the Rangers! How awesome. These are the things that make us love the game, right? Just like I’m sure how we’d all love it if the Canucks did things this way. We’d all praise Alain Vigneault for toughening up his team. We’d praise whoever dropped the gloves for getting his team fired up (Not that the Canucks lack a drive to win in the first place). Henrik got taken out? How will they survive without their heart and soul captain?

Only, we would never say those things. Vigneault would be gutless for dressing a goon squad. That player would be another example of how the Canucks do things the wrong way. Henrik Sedin is your typical can’t hack it Swede who warrants leadership speculation from people who have never been in the dressing room.

So why are Ottawa or St. Louis or San Jose or Phoenix any different?

This is why the game needs to change. Those teams aren’t any different and these double standards make no sense. The system is broken because there are pieces that don’t fit.

The league needs to admit that there is a problem. It needs to erase the headshots. It needs to erase the vigilante justice. It needs to set a consistent precedent from here on out. They botched the Shea Weber-Henrik Zetterberg ruling and it’s because they didn’t want to have a star player sit on the sidelines. Byron Bitz can sit out because there are 400 other people who can play the role of Byron Bitz. That double standard can’t exist.

The players need to admit that there is a problem. They need to stop giving the headshots. They need to pull up when they see the numbers. I have ZERO problem with fighting, but fighting someone with his arms down doesn’t prove how tough you are, it makes you a coward. Todd Bertuzzi did it right on Friday when he gave Shea Weber the tap and they went about things the way the rules allow for. Perhaps Bert learned from his original misstep. Most people forget Steve Moore fought Matt Cooke earlier that night.

If the headshots disappear from the game tomorrow, nobody will miss them. There are plenty of people who can hit in this world without trying to remove the head from the body. Those are the ones we watch over and over, not the ones that leave a player clutching his skull in agony.

Nobody today says, “Hey remember when Paul Kariya had his career knocked off the rails by a headshot? Those were the days.”

Nobody in 14 years will say, “Hey remember when Daniel Alfredsson’s triumphant send off was game two against the Rangers? Awesome, right?”

Saturday night wasn’t hockey. It was a joke.

The game needs to change for the better, like it always does, now.

Comments (19)

  1. Great article! Nicely done, sir.

  2. I was going to take you seriously until you said you preferred the game pre-lockout and then I stopped reading.

    • Actually – he’s right – the pre-lockout game was slower, and safer for the players. The unimpeded forecheck is so dangerous – I wouldn’t want my son to play defense – those guys are sitting ducks. But remember – you can’t screen or hold up anywhere on the ice – so hits that were safer pre-lockout – hits along the boards – they are charges now, but because they aren’t 5 strides – they aren’t called a charge.
      Obstruction or screening from the top of the circle down in each end would produce a better game, a safer game. It might also reduce the number of shots blocked, and that would also be more fun to watch as shot-blocking makes for dull, dull hockey.

  3. Its a travesty the way the NHL botched Suspending Patrick Kaleta’s blatant elbow to the head of Paul Kariya…. Another great player lost to concussion that nobody wants to talk about…

  4. Of course part of the problem lies with the players. Part of it lies with the disciplinarian though. Not suspending Weber was ridiculous. It wasn’t a hockey play, and there was intent to injure. It can’t be more clear cut than that. At least when someone gets an elbow up on a check it is part of a hockey play.

    Start suspending for the action, and not if a player gets hurt. The person getting hurt is irrelevant to what happens on the ice. So if a player blatantly throws an elbow, but it doesn’t connect, he shouldn’t be suspended? That is ridiculous.

    The NHL has already said that it won’t suspend people as harshly as the regular season. They made a mistake with this. The players think they can get away with more stuff now.

    • Well said, Joe, I agree.

      • i disagree. there was certainly no intent to injure zetterberg. If weber had wanted to hurt him, he could have killed him. seriously. It was a (very dirty) way of trying to send a message. Not very smart, but intent to injure? not likely

        • Horsefeathers.

          First – and this is important – the rule is ATTEMPT to injure, not INTENT. It’s an important distinction, because the ref no longer has to try to fathom what was going through the testosterone-and-adrenaline-addled brain of a substantially-large gentleman while he himself is in the heat of the moment callling the game. He just asks himself, was that reasonably part of the game of hockey? Was it below-board but accidental, in the course of the game? Or, was it blatant and unecessary? It’s still something of a judgment call, but it becomes much more manageable.

          Once Weber grabs Zetterberg’s head in both his hands, he’s no longer playing ice hockey. When he tries to drive him headfirst into the glass? Yeah, that is an attempt to injure your opponent. That’s five and a game. I’m not sure what else it could have been. Even if it gets missed during the game, it’s fairly plain on the video that this is what happened.

          Second, just because Zetterberg braced himself after the punch to the head and protected his face with his gloves, doesn’t make it “a message.” Just because Weber didn’t “kill him” doesn’t mean he didn’t try to hurt him. Had he caught Zetterberg unaware he very well could have hurt him severely. Without the attempt, Zetterberg wouldn’t have needed to save himself from a broken face at all.

  5. Elbowing itself shoulld be a game misconduct,10 mn major,an automatic 3 gms.and a 7500 in fines.Great article but pre lock out hockey sucked.The eastern games were a sure fire cure for insomnia.Especially when a team was up by 2

  6. I love this article!! Fantastic!!

    I’ll say this right from the start, I’m a Sens fan.

    I watched with such a hopeless feeling last year as Sedin took 6 punches in the face and got a penalty for it. I watched it happen again when Karlsson took another 6 in game 1.

    When the league removed the instigator penalty, they took away the power from the players to stop the kinds of retribution we are talking about today. I was in full support of this move. It was absolutely necessary. However, when you take the power away from the players and give it to the league, the league MUST use that power! Instead they have allowed for the “goon” behavior to go relatively unchecked and when it is checked, it’s with such underwhelming consequence that players have come to the realization that they can cross the line and not have to worry about it.

    Until the league starts to use the power that they rightfully bestowed upon themselves, it will continue to see an abundance of this behavior.

    I also believe it is important to state that this behavior will never be eliminated totally. Players will still do stupid things, but they should be the exception rather than the rule.

    Again, great article!

  7. you suck

    a word of advice: never talk about how stupid you are or how little you know, if you want people to listen

    I stopped reading right after those 2 proclamations

  8. Alot of these so called dirty plays and cheap shots were a bunch of flops. The phoenix goalie was the worst of them all. Watch the replay. Shaw didnt even try to hit him. He goes down for 10 minutes scrawling on the ground, and doesn’t even come out of the game? Really? Seemed like a giant flop to me. It’s the europeans turning hockey into soccer flopping all over the place to get game misconducts.

  9. Preach, baby! Preach!

    Still think the best argument is to look how entertaining Olympic hockey is without all the garbage.

    All this stuff is not part of the game, it’s a sideshow.

    “Hockey is where you shoot pucks at a net. That part was great. The part that was the WWE masquerading as hockey was complete and utter crap. ”

  10. This reminds me of Ellen E’s article about the benefits of injuring the other team’s players in the playoffs, both great articles.

    While watching the games yesterday I felt the same way as you. I spent a lot of the day thinking “why do I like hockey? Is the violence part of the reason I like it”? And I couldn’t come up with an answer. I too struggled with the “pansification” aspect of the game, since that seems to be happening in every aspect of our society these days and I don’t like it.

    But I don’t like watching Alfredsson end his career like that. I don’t like Boyle getting his face bashed in, and I don’t like anything that happened in the STL/SJS game. I can’t stand all that stuff, in fact, and a big problem is that I understood why it all happens. I can’t put into words how angry I was when Boyle punched Karlsson in the face in Game 1 (it reminded me of Marchand on Daniel Sedin) and the refs and the league stood by and did nothing. Teams noticed that not retaliating didn’t work for the Canucks last year, so now everyone plays like the Bruins and goes after blood if someone just touches one of their star players.

    And this snowballs and will keep snowballing until something much more terrible will happen on the ice (ala Bert/Moore, McSorely/Brashear, etc.) or the league will step in and end it all. I’m hoping for the latter.

  11. As with any league, the rules are under the control of the league owners. They are letting these tactics proliferate because they think they will make the most money this way. If not, then they would have let Shanahan keep handing out long suspensions. They would introduce conditional replays (like a replay request that doesn’t reveal a penalty is a powerplay for the other team) so things that are missed don’t fester in the minds of the players and make them feel that have to take things into their own hands. And players that are only in the league to pester other players would not be there to cause all this rink rage. Players and coaches and teams will only use tactics and players that use tactics that are worth the cost. Make it so you can’t win with these tactics and they won’t be used. Unfortunately the owners still see money to be made from unneeded violence and blood. The players are just cattle to them.

  12. This article is a Job Well Done. Sunday was no better than Saturday. The lack of consistency and uniformity in handing out suspensions and fines does great harm to the sport – both players and fans. The sport of hockey should be the same – whether during the regular season or playoffs. True hockey fans know there are skills related to our sport like any sport. Acting like playground bullies at a Junior High School is not one of them. Decisive action should have been taken Friday and if suspensions of players resulted in the loss of their services for several games – then both players and fans should take this punishment like adults. Maybe if this practice was followed – offenders would be less likely to act in a degrading and stupid manner. The really good players could provide us with the type of hockey we could and would enjoy. You might just find that the sport would be more popular. I must have had a hundred people tell me at church yesterday – “I like hockey but what I don’t like about it is all the fighting and violence. It is a rough sport – I know, but gang bashing is not a sport”

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