Violence in hockey from a player’s perspective: Scott, Rangers correspondent and a forward with the NYC Gay Hockey Association, is abroad on travel, but that didn’t stop him from filing this piece on how the NHL is dealing, or not, with curbing violence in the game. According to Scott, the Shanabans aren’t working.
“The two players stare and linger around each other. One or both nod. The sticks drop, the gloves come off and the fists come up. The crowd rises to their feet and cheer. Hockey is dying.
Now, l am not going to start here and debate whether fighting should or should not be eliminated from the game of hockey. My view on the matter will be made clear but what I want to discuss is something in the midst of the debate. There was something bothering me for the past few weeks. Well, more like something has been bothering me for a long period of time but has begun to surface more in the last few weeks. Yet I could not exactly put my finger on what it was.
I knew it was in the category of violence in hockey, i.e. fights, headshots, knee on knee hits, etc. but I was not sure exactly what about it that was annoying me. I continued to watch and attend games with this gnawing feeling in the back of my mind. And then a few days ago, I realized what it was. It was how easily logic and reason are thrown out by the NHL when it comes to this debate, which makes me feel like the people selling this product think I (we) are stupid.
Violence in hockey is a hot topic right now. It is not without controversy and everyone has an opinion on it. Most seem, ironically, willing to fight to the death to defend their point of view. So I know I am delving into a subject that is potentially going to get me some backlash and angry comments. My objective here is not to upset or insult but to share my thoughts on the matter, which after all is the reason why we blog about things.
First of all, most people, including myself, when they say they are against violence in hockey, they are not saying they want to eliminate all the “physicality” from the game. We do not think that legal checks, battles along the boards, etc. need to be eliminated. Rather it is the “violence” as I mentioned above; “staged” fights, headshots, (intentional) knee on knee hits, etc. that we would like to see gone from the game.
Just to clarify, when I say “staged” fights, by this I mean the fights that take place between two goons after talking about it for a bit. I do not mean the bouts that erupt sporadically after a bad hit or the like. Those I do not think will ever be fully eliminated from the game. But the violence I mentioned above I think needs to be gone. It takes away from what makes the game of hockey the greatest game in the world. And if the consequences for these violent acts were more severe than they currently are, they probably would drop drastically.
But I will get into that a little more later. So when someone says they are against violence/fighting in hockey, to respond that they want to take everything physical out of the game is incorrect. So here is what I do not get, the illogical defenses given by those at the highest levels of the game’s institution, i.e. the NHL, as to why there is no reason to change the game the way it is now. I do not understand how they can look at the game, in its current state with regards to violence, and think nothing is amiss. Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Colby Armstrong, Marc Savard, and Marc Staal are just several names of NHL players who have missed time playing this season due to concussions.
These are players who are key to their teams’ successes and so their absence is tremendous. Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard have been out since last season, with Crosby having had a short return this season before stopping again due to the return of post-concussion symptoms. Marc Staal just returned to the Rangers’ lineup at the 2012 Winter Classic on January 2nd after getting concussed last season on February 22nd, 2011. That is almost a year’s length in time that he was out. Yet, while players continue to drop like candy, the NHL thinks everything is hunky dory.
The punishments for those who cause serious injury to other players baffle me. While injuries (including those other than concussions) can keep players out of the game for such long periods of time, as demonstrated above, what are the consequences given to the players who cause those injuries? A few games. Sometimes they are not even punished for their crime.
Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Daniel Carcillo was suspended 3 times this season. The first time he was assessed a 2-game suspension and the last one just 7 games. This is not his first season of getting multiple suspensions. This is an example of what I mean when logic and reason go out the window. I would like to know why the NHL thinks that the suspensions they are handing out have any effect on players “behaving” themselves better? Carcillo obviously did not think it was too much of a price to pay to seriously injure another player as he has done it so many times now. How does the punishment fit the crime?
Players are injured and miss months of being able to play, while the culprit sits out only for a couple of weeks, max. In 2006, during an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, a brawl broke out between players on the court. 9 players were suspended including Pacers’ player Ron Artest who got the most, 86 games (73 regular season games and 13 playoff games). And guess what? There has not been an altercation like that since. The suspension was so severe that no one would want to risk that much for violating the rules.
But if that had happened in the NHL, I would guess he would have gotten maybe a 3 or 4 games suspension. After all, Carcillo seriously injured someone and got 7 games and in the NBA altercation no players were hurt, so it probably would be fewer. Where is the logic? I also do not get how players who seriously injure other players are fined merely a few thousand dollars some times, while John Tortorella was fined $30,000 (!!!) for just saying something negative about the referees from the Winter Classic. I get that you are not supposed to “question” the “authority” but how is saying something worse than physically harming someone?
Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, said when asked if fighting is dangerous, “Maybe it is and maybe it’s not. You don’t know that for a fact.” Seriously?!? Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of the word: danger: exposure or liability to injure, pain, harm or loss.
How does that not fit with two huge guys trying to punch each other in the head as hard as they can … wearing skates … on ice??? This is what I mean by the NHL thinking I am stupid. The commissioner of the NHL thinks that he can say that two people fighting (forget about that added effects of skates and ice) is not “dangerous” and that me, as a fan, is supposed to accept that as a valid answer. Of course it is dangerous! That is why we do not see skilled players like Patrick Kane, Claude Giroux, or Steven Stamkos being sent out onto the ice to fight each other. That is left to the goons like Steve Ott or Colton Orr.
Also, why is it taking so long for the NHL to deal with headshots? They say they need time to analyze and study it. “Things cannot change overnight.” And so forth. Again, what am I an idiot? The NHL has proven that when it wants something done it can do it, even overnight. The “Sean Avery” rule was created overnight. When Avery used his stick to block the view of Devil’s goaltender Maritn Brodeur, the very next day the NHL put out the rule (though they called it a “reinterpretation” of a rule) making that play illegal.
In 2010 the NHL was quick to intervene when the New Jersey Devils tried to sign forward Ilya Kovalchuck to a 17-year deal. The NHL quickly rejected the deal and forced the Devils to come up with a new one. In 2002 the NHL was fast to make changes to the arenas when tragically a little girl died as the result of getting hit in the head by a puck that shot out of the rink. So when it wants to (or feels pressure to) the NHL can move very quickly. So why is player safety not a good enough reason?
I love hockey. I will say it over and over again (because apparently there are those who believe that if you are against violence in hockey you hate the sport). I do not believe that fighting will ever be truly eliminated from the game and I do not want to see the physicality removed either. I do not want to see any player on any team (even the Islanders) get injured so badly that they miss months or never return to the game. I just want players to play by the rules and for the league to not treat me as if I was dropped on my head.”
Follow Scott, #87, on twitter: @moridin87