National Hockey League players are all part of one union appropriately titled the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) which makes sure they have equal rights in collective bargaining agreements and many other issues pertaining to the play on the ice and supplemental discipline.
Why then are we continuing to see, on an alarmingly increasing basis, players taking liberties with some of their own with outright malicious and borderline criminal like behavior, leaving their supposed brethren writhing on the ice and some even needing a stretcher to be taken off?
It has been an issue that has been bothering many fans and writers alike for some time now and the constant struggle to understand it could possibly never be explained properly.
If you think back in history to one of the wildest and meanest teams to ever lace up skates and brandish wooden hockey sticks in the mid to late 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers could possibly be faced with a forfeit due to many of their players spending time in jail for those same infractions today.
The difference back then could be attributed to the enforcer presence being much more pronounced and any liberty being taken with a Bob Clarke or Bill Barber per se, being met with extreme violence at the hands of Dave Schultz.
Another reason could be the game has just gotten so fast and the players so big, that a solution of expanding the rink size a logical way to move forward and try to take some of this out of the game.
This is not to say or assume that all NHLPA members are in this boat. It’s a classic example of a couple of ‘bad apples’ and repeat offenders giving the entire league a bad name. But one cannot deny the alarming trend we have seen over the past couple of seasons and especially over the first two weeks of the 2013-14 season. Five separate incidents, some clearly worse than others, have me and everyone else invested in this great game scratching their heads.
The fifth incident, involving Barrett Jackman of the St.Louis Blues and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is not listed below, as there is no video of the incident allowing for an independent observation of the hit. Jackman was given a 2 minute minor for boarding and Kane was not injured on the play and remained in the game.
I, as many others, have not been a fan of previous NHL discipline head Colin Campbell or current position holder Brendan Shanahan due to inconsistency in suspensions and troubling rulings that seem to favor and likewise punish certain players over other ones. But they are in a real tough spot here when players fail to respect each other on the ice in the first place.
Let’s take a look at each incident and try to break down whether the situation could have been avoided taking into consideration all factors, including players previous reputations.
Brad Stuart (SJ) On Rick Nash (NYR)
This was a truly close call on a play where I feel Stuart had no ‘intent’ to injure the Rangers superstar forward. In the end however, the hit did make contact to the head and cost Brad a three game suspension. With Stuart being known around the league as a heavy hitter but for the most part, clean in that respect, a fair call by Shanahan and not an example of a lack of respect from one player to another. But as we go on with the list, it gets a lot worse.
Nash is currently suffering from a concussion and still not skating with his teammates.
Patrick Kaleta (BUF) On Jack Johnson (CLB)
This outright elbow (notice the arm extension through the head on the hit and the clear targeting employed by Kaleta as he zeros in on Johnson) earned him a ten (10) game suspension by Shanahan and to be honest, I would not have had a problem with more. This shows an outright lack of respect for another players safety on the ice. To make matters even worse, the video continues afterwards with some of Kaleta’s ‘greatest’ hits. Known for his dirty play and characterized as a poor man’s Matt Cooke are not good things for a players reputation.
Johnson did not leave the game and there was no injury suffered on the play.
Maxim Lapierre (MTL) On Dan Boyle (SJ)
There really is not that big a difference between LaPierre and Kaleta on the two situations. Both are downright reckless and show a complete lack of awareness and hockey sense on the ice. A FULL 3 seconds of staring at Boyle’s number 22 in his face was clearly not enough to prevent Maxim from extending and driving through the back hit, smashing Boyle’s head into the glass with enough force to just about knock him out cold. LaPierre is scheduled for an in-person hearing today to discuss the incident and be given his punishment for his ridiculousness. Once suspended in 2010 for four games, the new CBA prevents him from being ‘officially’ treated’ as a repeat offender.
Boyle is said to be feeling ‘great’ with no headaches or concussion related symptoms as of this writing.
Cody McLeod (COL) On Niklas Kronwall (DET)
Niklas Kronwall is a devastating, punishing member of the Detroit Red Wings blue line. But 99% of his hits are clean, plain and simple. Rarely does Kronwall go out of his way to injure an opponent. McLeod has always been known as a hard nosed player as well, one that plays very close to the ledge without going over it. In this case, he flew over it.
Watch how McLeod cruises then explodes into the hit. Kronwall’s back is to him the ENTIRE time. What is it going to take to get through to some players that if you see the numbers, you are not permitted to hit? Is it really that difficult to understand? This is not only a clear sign of disrespecting another players safety, but a great example of why the hybrid icing rule was instituted this year. An in-person hearing is scheduled and I can see McLeod getting 7 games.
Kronwall was diagnosed with a mild concussion and lacerations to his ear and left the game on a stretcher.
Is it going to take a player getting paralyzed by one of his union members to get some of these knuckle-heads to respect each other on the ice? Sure, the referees maintain control of a game by possessing the whistle and power to make the right calls while Shanahan holds the power to hand out lengthy consistent suspensions, especially to repeat offenders.
But this goes much deeper than that. Just as people call for fighting to remain in the game as a way for players to ‘police’ themselves, I say first they have to respect themselves and other players. Then we can move onto debating the subject of fighting.
I have a suggestion…release to all member clubs a video collection of Matt Martin‘s hits as a template for fair, tough play. Martin, the league leader in hits the past two seasons, only averages 1.72 penalty minutes per game in his career. You can play this game tough without being over-zealous and downright irresponsible, as Matt clearly proves below. And this is only a sequence against Hal Gill, the towering defenseman who at the time, played for the Montreal Canadiens. If there was a collage out there, they would all be similar in fashion.
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