This article was actually written during a balmy week in June. Even as I basked in the sunlight in my backyard in Nepean, after the Stanley Cup had been won by the L.A. Kings, I knew it was just a matter of time before we would all be shaking our fists in anger at yet another boneheaded violent act. I just thought I would get a leg up on my assignment and put a sort of template together for when the incident would actually occur. What you are going to read is an interactive article that you can refer to every time someone does something stupid on the ice from now on. You can even laminate it and put it on the fridge at home or at the office. Keep a dry-erase marker and some Kleenex on hand for hours and hours of fun!
You would think we would learn, but we never do. Unnecessarily violent acts, such as the one everyone is talking about, keep reoccurring no matter what the NHL does to prevent them. Of course, we're all (circle appropriate personal response: sickened, disgusted, appalled, shocked) right now. The NHL's latest numbnut, _______________ (insert numbnut's name) (circle appropriate answer: slashed, stomped, blindsided, cheapshotted, assaulted WWE-style) _________________ (insert victim player's name) and has made us all wonder how this could have happened. We all have an opinion as to how many games said numbnut deserves to be suspended. In my opinion, _________________ (insert offending player's) should receive a suspension that is in line with the number of games ________________ (insert victimized player's) misses. The length of suspensions needs to be sufficient, and the aggressor's skill level should have nothing to do with the number of games meted out.
One of the reasons the NHL has seen more violent offenses the last two decades or so is that players' equipment is so durable and unforgiving that everyone feels invincible out on the ice. There are more violent incidents nowadays, but suspensions are so lax and meaningless that no one takes them seriously. A punishment should reflect the seriousness of the dirty deed. I believe there needs to be a minimum number of games a player can receive for a violent offense that doesn't cause any significant injury, and this minimum needs to be enough to make the aggressor realize his actions cannot be tolerated. The league also needs to decide on a maximum number of games a player can be suspended in the event the violent act results in the victim missing an entire season or retiring.
Depending on the act, the intention, and the extent of the injury, a maximum of 50 or 100 games would be sufficient enough to get the point across. I know, it sounds harsh, but bear with me. Major league baseball has handed out suspensions of this length to all-stars Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and others for using performance enhancing drugs. Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire 2014 season for taking part in the Biogenesis scandal that rocked baseball. MLB is so vindictive that its all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, is ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame for, according to Rose, betting on his own team to win! (1) Many more disgusting on-ice acts have been simply brushed aside by the NHL.
Hockey has a history of letting its star players get away with bloody murder. Alexander Ovechkin, for example, has been suspended three times in his career. In November 2009, he was suspended two games for being "involved in an incident where he extended his knee while delivering a hit" on the Carolina Hurricanes' Tim Gleeson. (2) In March of the same season, he was suspended two games because he had received three game-misconduct penalties in one season. This time, he had been called for boarding when he slammed Chicago's Brian Campbell into the boards. Campbell suffered a fractured clavicle and a fractured rib (3). He received another three games in January 2012 for an illegal hit on Zbynek Michalek.
On the other hand, Chris Simon, a repeat offender of lesser skill, had the book thrown at him numerous times. He infamously received a 25-game suspension for swinging his stick at the head of the New York Rangers' Ryan Hollweg, in retaliation for what Simon felt was a dirty hit earlier in the game (4). Simon later received a 30-game suspension for tripping Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu and then stepping on the back of Ruutu's right leg. Both suspensions were deserved.
Just three months later, Anaheim's Chris Pronger, a former Norris and Hart Trophy winner, committed an equally heinous act. Pronger tried to re-enact the closing scene of the movie Saw by slamming his skate blade into Canuck Ryan Kesler's calf. Pronger was not even disciplined for his actions! Simon was quick to point out the NHL's lack of disciplinary consistency. "It would be nice to have things treated fairly, at least," said Simon. "I don't think in that instance it's fair at all. I couldn't believe right away that nothing was going to be done about it." The NHL rescinded and gave Pronger eight games, even though at that point Pronger had previously been suspended seven other times (5). The NHL had got it right once when they suspended Todd Bertuzzi for a year for driving Steve Moore's head onto the ice back in 2004, but the league has had a spotty discipline record ever since.
Would it be too much to ask for a little consistency? After all, in hockey, most suspensions are related to violent attacks against another human being. Does it really matter who is responsible for the attack? A violent act is a violent act. Handing out suspensions that mean something might just make a player think twice the next time he wants to cut an opponent's Achilles tendon with his skate blade.
International hockey organisations have started penalizing players four minutes for running the goalie, an offense that has received a lot of ink in NHL circles. Remember not long ago when ____________ (insert boorish forward's name) rammed into _____________ (insert victim goalie's name)? Stiffer penalties could help convince players that goalies are not fair game. Coaches would become furious if their players kept taking four-minute penalties for running the goalie. Suspensions, like penalties, need to mean something. Two-game suspensions for a UFC-like elbow to the head do little to curb violence.
If the NHL is truly serious about eliminating (circle the most recent violent offense: cheap shots, hits from behind, slew footing, carving up players with a skate blade), it needs to start imposing harsher penalties and suspending players more appropriately. The NBA, in banning L.A. Clippers' owner Donald Sterling for life, set the bar pretty high for future acts of racism in their game. The NHL needs to do the same and set its bar higher to prevent future acts of violence. And it needs to stick to its guns! Players are not worried about losing two or three games salary. Teams are not so worried about losing a player to suspension for a few games because they are usually not stars who get suspended anyway. So the cycle of violence continues, and we'll all continue to feel shocked and offended. We really shouldn't be surprised __________________ (insert offender's name) is getting only ________ (insert number of games) games for what he did; there is precedent a mile long.
The league needs to overlook the fact that banishing a star player to the press box will cost them money. It needs to think about the big picture: reducing the negative media attention the NHL receives after an unnecessary act of violence. The league cannot waver, no matter who is responsible for the offensive act. It will take some time and there will be growing pains, but the sport will be better off if the league's disciplinary committee takes suspendable offenses seriously.
I wouldn't hold my breath that anything is going to change. After Bill Masterton's death in 1968, it took the league 11 years to mandate the wearing of helmets. The league still can't decide whether or not it wants to keep fighting in the game. And now, the league is dragging its feet on _______________ (insert present-day issue). Either you're serious about taking boneheaded moves out of the game or you're not: just do us all a favour and make up your mind, NHL!
(1) "Baseball's longest suspensions," Line Up Forms. Online: http://www.lineupforms.com/baseballs-longest-suspensions.html
(2) Rosen, Dan. "Ovi suspended 2 games; Day-to-day with sore knee," NHL.com, December 1, 2009. Online: http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=508132.
(3) "Blackhawks say Campbell out 7-8 weeks," ESPNChicago.com. March 17, 2010. Online: http://sports.espn.go.com/chicago/nhl/news/story?id=5000549.
(4) Chris Simon. Wikipedia. Online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Simon#cite_note-7.
(5) "Simon stompin' mad on Pronger call," Toronto Star. March 15, 2008. Online: http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2008/03/15/simon_stompin_mad_on_pronger_call.html.