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Sticks and Stones (and Hits from Behind) May Break My Bones but Words (and Gestures) Won’t Hurt Me

I’m a little late to the party on this topic, though I’ve shared a thought or two on Twitter this week, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least offer some extended opinion on the recent suspensions handed out to James Wisniewski of the New York Islanders and Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Wisniewski, of course, was banned for a pair of games for making what the NHL dubbed an “inappropriate gesture” directed toward Rangers forward Sean Avery, while Hjalmarsson got the same sentence for a dangerous, blind side hit on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville.

Pominville was concussed on the play and there is said to be no time table for his return to the Sabres lineup. Avery – go figure, be he the perpetrator or the “victim”, involved in yet another incident – suffered, perhaps, some shame and hurt feelings because of Wisniewski’s gesture. But he’s a big boy. He’s over it already, I’m sure.

Neither Hjalmarsson’s hit, nor Wisniewski’s pantomime skills are acceptable, of course, but the fact that these two incidents were met with identical supplementary discipline for the guilty parties is so ridiculously far off the mark, I’m having an awfully difficult time accepting any of it (though I should know better than to expect sensible reactions, having followed this league as long as I have). I also have an equally terrible time making sense of society’s insatiable need to parent the public, which has clearly influenced the league’s position on gesturing and the like.

Hjalmarsson could have crippled Pominville, or worse. Wisniewski reacted poorly to Sean Avery being Sean Avery, had a little fun at the Ranger pest’s expense, and deserved a stern talking to and probably a fine as well, if only because the exchange was captured on camera and has since been immortalized, thanks to YouTube, making it accessible to one and all, now and forever. There was a victim in the Hjalmarsson incident. Who was “victimized” by Wisniewski’s antics?

Oh, right, “The kids”…

The common defense from those okay with the NHL suspending Wisniewski has been something along the lines of, “Well, how do I explain that gesture to my child?” and the point, to some extent, is valid. I’m now a father of two and wouldn’t exactly be completely comfortable with having to level with my boys to the tune of, “You see, son(s), James was telling Sean that he [blanks] the [blanks] of other men and, while, if that were true, there’s nothing wrong with that, since that would be Sean’s personal choice and no one has the right to call that into question, he was probably kidding and just trying to make Sean feel bad.” (That’s about as P.C. an explanation as one can give, right?) “He was being a poor sport,” would probably work just as well. Kids are smart.

So, what is it that we’re so worried about? I surmise it’s children copying what Wisniewski did themselves at some point and, if that’s the case, my question is, why aren’t we equally as concerned about young hockey players mimicking the actions of Hjalmarsson? And which end result would be more detrimental? I’d certainly prefer having to counsel my kids through a verbal jab or some questionable sign language from a foe to nursing them back to health after a concussion – or worse.

By equating one incident to the other, the NHL has made their statement and they couldn’t have it any more wrong.

Inherently, kids are going to pick up on inappropriate behaviors. At some point, they’re going to share their middle fingers with a friend and, probably, worse. And, while that isn’t very nice, parents can certainly communicate as much. But whatever happened to “Sticks and stones…” and so on and so forth?

Oral sex gesture? Yeah, that’s not right. “Shouldn’t do that, James. Don’t do it again.” That’s a well-deserved warning. Deliberate non-compliance thereafter would undoubtedly call for suspension.

But significant injury to another on a play that was deemed illegal? Without question, Hjalmarsson/Pominville-like instances always deserve immediate, supplementary punishment. That kind of thing simply can’t happen. Examples should be set. And kids do need consistent reinforcement of as much.

How league disciplinarians cannot see that hammering a guy from behind – with an end result that could very well have been far worse – and making a childish gesture in an effort to belittle a rival are at opposite ends of the severity spectrum, is beyond me. To this sensible observer, it couldn’t be more clear.

In the end, it’s just two games for each of the offending parties and, like every other time questionable suspensions are handed out, we’ll soon get past all of this, I guess. But where are we going from here?

(And how far off is two minutes for cursing, by the way?)

With regard to supplementary discipline, the NHL would be best served to keep (make?) protecting its players a top priority and, while there’s also something to be said for defending the integrity of the league as a whole, the powers-that-be need not worry so much about protecting the viewing public (and their children) from themselves.

We’ll handle that part, thanks.

At least I will.

JJ on Twitter
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, NHL Talk, Cheap Hits, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: james+wisniewski, jason+pominville, niklas+hjalmarsson, sean+avery



Good article/blog/post/thing. Well-written, intelligent, proper spelling. Look forward to reading more from you.

Posted by cuckooforkovalchuk on 10/13/10 at 01:39 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Thank you, cuckooforkovalchuk. Glad you liked the article/blog/post/thing. Proper spelling is key. smile


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 10/13/10 at 01:50 PM ET

scotts0's avatar

Am I wrong, or is Bettman still stating that he has not seen the oral gesture?  If that’s the case…what kind of a commissioner does this league have?

I mean, we all know the answer to that, but C’MON!(G.O.B Bluth)

Posted by scotts0 from New York on 10/13/10 at 02:22 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

Maybe he just doesn’t UNDERSTAND the implication of Wiz’s gesture? smile


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 10/13/10 at 02:24 PM ET


I concur with cuckoo, nice read and very well articulated.

Posted by dash_pinched on 10/13/10 at 02:38 PM ET

BTCBen's avatar

I couldn’t agree with you more JJ.  Thanks for writing this up.  I understand that these suspensions are a big deal for players.  I also understand that the league is trying hard to keep a squeaky-clean image for the kids.  With that said, Wisnewski should have been fined like you stated, or perhaps given 1-game off so that he really appreciates the severity of the leagues stance on inappropriate gestures. 

However, Hjalmarsson should have been given a minimum of 5-games.  On hits like this I would like to see a system where first time offenders are given 5+ games and repeat offenders are given 15+.  This is serious business.  Careers are ruined by hits like that, and even more importantly, lives can be permanently changed/damaged even outside of hockey.  The NHL really is off the mark in their discipline policy and its insulting to see the way they continue to belittle the public and parents.

Posted by BTCBen on 10/13/10 at 02:57 PM ET

hockeychic's avatar

The NHL discipline (or lack thereof) is ridiculous.  When Sean Avery got suspended for six games, I thought it should have been a matter handled by the Stars internally.  Yes, what he said was disgusting but his suspension was more than players got for severly injuring other players.  Now to give Wiz the same suspension as Hjalmarsson is a joke.  The NHL is still not serious about head shots.

Posted by hockeychic from Denver, CO on 10/13/10 at 03:32 PM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

This gesture thing is just silly..  good post.

Posted by Hippy Dave from Somewhere West of Detroit on 10/13/10 at 05:49 PM ET

Jon Jordan's avatar

It’s funny - all who have commented here agree with me and, save for one or two with whom I’ve spoken since Monday, everyone else that’s expressed an opinion on the matter seems to as well…

If this is so logical to all of us… Why the hell does the NHL continue to get this stuff so blatantly wrong???


Posted by Jon Jordan from Tampa, FL on 10/13/10 at 08:22 PM ET

hiero4life's avatar

I’ve heard much worse from youth hockey players in the locker room then what was gestured.  It is beyond logic that the NHL and the NHLPA continually turn a blind eye to dangerous plays and substataintial injures.  They are a joke and ruin their creditability at each time things like this happens.

Posted by hiero4life from anywhere i am on 10/13/10 at 08:58 PM ET

german_wing's avatar

thanx a lot jj. for speaking (writing) my mind from yesterday night. exactly my thoughts.

pd’s got a good piece online about the nhl maybe wanting hammer’s suspension to be over so he can meet again with the sabres.

if they wanna regulate it that way: why even dish out suspensions? *sigh*

and pd’s whysh had a great point yesterday, sry if i’m gettin repetetive, but i’m hoping a lot of ppl support this: fine guys for stuff like gestures or slurs/remarks. fine ‘em heavily. and suspend those that commit a play that injures another player. so there you’ve got your distinction, and both disciplinary measures should hurt the offenders right enough.

an idea of myself: why not an automatic suspension for an action/the player when the result is an injury? this way, you’d take out this intent-stuff and send a clear signal. sure, this way, some guys might get suspended even though they wanted to play fair. but with that imaginary rule, the hilarious situation of richards not even sanctioned on ice for the booth hit would be oblivious. opinions? *hides behind marty brodeur*

Posted by german_wing from Frankfurt, Germany on 10/13/10 at 09:11 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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