I sat down to write a recap of last night’s game and found myself frustrated by the lack of words.
If you know me at all, you know that’s pretty rare.
At some point in the third period, my roommate turned to me and said, “They’re just playing like they don’t care anymore.” And it’s true. There was some effort in the first period, slightly less in the second, and mere glimpses in the third. Haphazard passes, incomplete checks...and if they’re not going to show up, what’s the point? Why analyze every second of a game they weren’t in to begin with? Why work if they won’t?
*Sigh* It’s been one of those nights.
So then, I sat down to write my preview for tonight’s game against the Islanders and again found myself at a loss for words, this time for completely different reasons.
By now everyone has seen or at the very least heard about Chris Simon’s hit on Ryan Hollweg during Thursday’s Rangers-Islanders game. It’s all over the media, naturally, because there’s nothing Americans love more than a good bit of bloodlust. And what better way to bring our sport into the media spotlight, right? It’s interesting, just a few days ago I was watching an interview with Craig Conroy and he was discussing the difference between American coverage of hockey and Canadian coverage of hockey. Going from Calgary to LA and back, he has a pretty good perspective on the subject, and going from DC to Montreal and back, I wholeheartedly agree:
(His interview is about 4 minutes in - the rest is kind of funny if you want to watch, but it kind of undermines my point a bit...)
That’s not what’s bothering me, though. The misrepresentation and under representation of hockey in the American sports media is nothing new and it’s certainly not something I feel like addressing. At least not now. Wait until the playoffs are in full swing and hockey is still taking a backseat to championship poker, and I’m sure I’ll come up with something.
What’s really bothering me is the same thing that’s bothering most hockey fans right now. This is the third incident in the last couple of weeks that has created a stir, whether punished by the on-ice officials or not, whether subject to league punishment or not. You have the hit by Neil on Drury – technically a legal hit, but with a clear intent to injure. You then have the hit by Janssen on Kaberle that resulted in a mere 3-game suspension for Janssen while Kaberle remains on the shelf. And now this. There is an increased lack of respect among the players lately, and they seem to be at a point where a temper flare-up can result in serious injury.
Chris Simon is not a malicious person, I truly believe that. Is he a bit of a goon? Sure. Is he known for dropping the gloves? Absolutely. But during his time here in DC, I never remember him being so over the top pissed off that he lost all sense of what he was doing – and that’s what seemed to happen. He lost control, did something stupid and dangerous, and will probably pay. How much he’ll have to pay remains to be seen, and it’ll be interesting to see what the league hands down.
His reaction was just very odd, very out of character. If you look at the hit by Hollweg that preceded the stick-swinging, it was a blatant boarding call that went undetected by the officials – just another gold star day for NHL referees. That doesn’t excuse what Simon did by any stretch, don’t get me wrong. But in that moment, when he was hit from behind, you can see something in him almost snap. I’ve watched him play for years and I’ve never seen him act like that. It was terrifying.
The fact is that these kinds of things will always happen, no matter what the punishment. They happen in every sport because of a combination of factors. For one thing, you’ve got a bunch of guys running on pure adrenalin; for another, contact is usually a part of the game, especially in sports like hockey and football but not excluding the NBA, MLB, etc. Then you throw in the fact that these guys are doing their job, and it takes on a whole other level of intensity. Short of adding a third referee (and dear god, don’t they get in the way enough as it is with two of them out there?) you’re never going to completely eliminate the headline-making incidents...it just won’t happen.
What you can do is send a message to people who might consider doing this on a regular basis. You send a message to the people who might do things that would incur this sort of reaction. The head shots, cheap shots, boardings, shoulder checks, whatever – they need to stop and they need to stop now. So far this season we’ve been relatively lucky, at least in the sense that no one has been seriously injured. Even in recent years, the only serious case we can point to is the Bertuzzi-Moore incident.
(Incidentally, that’s something I have some strong opinions about but choose to keep to myself for now because they’re not all that popular. I’ll piss off people some other time.)
For what it’s worth, and regardless of whether or not this was a momentary lapse by Big Si, I think he deserves to sit for at least the rest of the season. Late hits, high hits, cheap shots are all bad enough, but when you add a stick, it becomes that much more dangerous. Look at McSorley’s infamous attack on our own Brashear all those years ago and tell me that wasn’t one of the scariest things you’ve ever seen.
Judging by the other “punishments” handed down by the league this season, though, I’ll wager a guess that he’ll get five games. Maybe seven.
And therein lies the problem – the league has put themselves in a Catch-22 situation. If they suspend him for a minimal amount of time, anything less than 10 games, they’re basically saying its okay to swing your stick at a guy's face...just not over his head. If they kick him out for the rest of the season or longer, they’re setting a standard for how far you have to go for a severe punishment, and the “clean” hits that are laying guys out with concussions will continue unchecked.
Look, even Ovie probably should’ve gotten a game suspension for his hit on Le Petit Briere – it wasn’t premeditated, it wasn’t even malicious, but it was a late hit from behind and deserved some sort of message, some attempt by the league to say this is not okay and we’re going to put an end to it.
But first, the important issues, right? Let’s get the players some new uniforms.