Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 04/01/14 at 11:19 AM ET
By Tom Murray,
A few thoughts in the wake of what was the major topic of discussion early this week—the hit on Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews by Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Predictably, there were opposing reactions to the hit, all of which can be summed up by the opinions of two well-known hockey pundits.
Greg Wyshynski, aka “Puck Daddy” at yahoo.com, delivered an impassioned defense:
“It was a hellacious check by one of the NHL’s best hitters,” he wrote, “injuring one of the NHL’s best players. Was it headhunting? No. Was it a defender taking liberties with an opponent? No, unless we’ve redefined any hard check in the game as ‘borderline.’”
An interesting take, and one that completely avoided the fact that we’re not talking about just any hardnosed player who delivered the hit, but Orpik, a player whose shady reputation precedes him, a point that was thoroughly covered by Mike Milbury on NBCSN after the game.
“This is a guy that has a history and it’s documented, of hurting people,” Milbury said of Orpik, “and I think he intends to. I think he sees people who are vulnerable and never gives them a chance to lay off.”
Milbury then enumerated a slew of players who’ve been on the receiving end of Orpik’s handiwork over the years, among them: Jeff Skinner (“knocked unconscious”), Eric Cole (“he broke his neck”) and the knee-on-knee incident with the Rangers Derek Stepan two years ago that prompted John Tortorella’s anti-Penguins rant (“one of the most arrogant organizations in the league”) that cost him a $20,000 fine: “The knee is out,” Milbury said as he analyzed a replay of the hit, “middle of the ice, running straight ahead, which he does with alarming frequency.”
Both Wyshynski and Milbury also referenced the Orpik hit on Loui Eriksson of the Bruins last December, which precipitated the slew-foot attack on Orpik by Shawn Thornton, for which Thornton received a 15-game suspension.
“A clean hit,” claimed the Puck Daddy.
“A dirty hit,” proclaimed Milbury.
And never the twain shall meet.
But here’s the thing:
While there’s absolutely no excuse for Thornton’s attack on Orpik, it was prompted in large part by the fact that the Penguins’ defenseman is as well known for refusing to drop his gloves as he is for seeming to prey on opponents in vulnerable positions.
"You have a guy who operates on a predatory level, that's Brooks Orpik, but he refuses to fight,” Milbury said. “He refuses to face the music when it comes to that and the physicality. He makes a conscious choice.”
Which brings us to Josh Yohe, a writer who covers the Penguins for Trib Total Media. During the 2011-12 season he took a survey of 15 Penguins players, Sidney Crosby included, asking if they thought fighting should be banned. 14 said no. Orpik was the only one to say yes.
I contacted Yohe via email late Monday afternoon and asked him about his survey and Orpik’s response.
“His reasoning,” Yohe responded via email, “was based on the death of several enforcers in the summer of 2011.” (Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died within four months of each other that year.)
Yohe also added the fact that Orpik didn’t want to risk becoming a “vegetable” as the result of fighting.
So to sum it all up, Orpik is apparently just fine with having it both ways: Refusing to drop the gloves while cruising around the ice to his heart’s content, picking his spots, delivering hits that are borderline at a minimum and oftentimes simply cheap and dirty, then turtling or skating away when challenged for his actions because of his fear of sustaining a long-term brain injury.
It’s a maddening double standard. And with the start of the playoffs looming, just wondering how the rest of the boys in the room feel about it. Especially the two who wear #’s 87 and 71. (Note to Josh Yohe: Perhaps another survey of the Penguins is in order?)
Because when it comes time to receive a message that time of year, those are the top two guys who are going to bear the brunt of it—not the teammate who continues to deliver lousy hits and then run from the consequences.
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