Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 03/23/07 at 11:00 AM ET
By George Malik:
Collie “Keep Your Head Up” Campbell, who applies selective justice with all the deftness and aplomb of Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard, has declared that it’s time to start pondering whether the dangers of fighting outweigh its benefits:
‘‘This year we’ve had two players carried out on stretchers because of fair, consenting fights that had taken place. . . . It scares you,’’ said Campbell.
‘‘I think we, the players and the managers, have to look at this aspect of the game.’‘
Let me get this straight:
Chris Neil elbows Chris Drury in the head, and his “hard but clean” hit causes a brawl that gets substantial airtime in the States.
Then Cam Janssen hits Tomas Kaberle, who’s a Maple Leaf, and the head-shot debate is inflamed thanks to the stoking of the substantial kindling that is the Toronto media machine.
While the head-shot debate simmers, Chris Simon, an Islander, whacks Ryan Hollweg, a Ranger, and we get McSorely-esque declarations that the NHL is “at it again” from the U.S. media, which airs the chop like the stick-swing determined the father of Anna Nichole Smith’s baby.
Add a dash of the much-anticipated Belak-Janssen scrap (what, no Tucker taking out Bertuzzi-esque revenge?), which drew the tongue-clucking of the anti-fighting media on both sides of the border, and then show a Ranger very cleanly knocking the lights out of a guy who has titanium plates in both orbital bones?
Well now, we’ve got quite an “image” problem on our hands, don’t we? Especially in the light of Brian Burke’s declaration—which his fellow Tyrannosauruses heartily approved—that there isn’t enough fighting in the league, a declaration that Campbell assented to!
A month ago, Colin Campbell was singing a different tune:
Colin Campbell, the NHL’s director of hockey operations, says the game needs a breather from the constant change.
“It’s time to establish continuity, you can’t keep making changes,” he said. “Let’ s not confuse the fans.”
That was Campbell’s excuse for doing nothing to change the NHL’s monotonous schedule (it looks good when all the races are down to the wire, but we get Columbus-Columbus-Chicago-Chicago to finish the season here in Detroit), and to not meaningfully address the fact that so many middling teams decide to trap it up and play for the shootout after the five-minute mark of the third period.
He was certainly outspoken about the fact that the “good hockey hits” that put Kaberle, Drury, Williams, and DiMaio, among others, on stretchers are more about players putting themselves in “vulnerable” positions than headhunting (which, according to Jarome Iginla, is a rather conscious choice):
I’ve talked to leagues where any check to the head is a penalty and . . . if this rule is out there, you’re getting players coming into our league who have played all the way up, knowing they are not going to get hit with a shoulder to the head, they come to the NHL and won’t be prepared for it. I remember when I played, I got nailed by Willi Plett. I remember I was out on the ice. I remember thinking,: “The coach is going to think; ‘How can I expose myself that way?’ ” My dad is going to give me crap for exposing myself.”
Yes, God forbid that happens, just as Claude Lemieux told WDFN that the punishment for his hit on Kris Draper opened up a “new era” where, and I quote:
You know, it was the beginning of the new, you know, era in the NHL, where players, you know, said it’s OK to face the boards, it’s OK to turn to the boards, and it’s like that today, and they use it as an asset, and if you turn to the boards and you get hit, you fall, it’s a penalty, and it was just the beginning of that. I’m a big promoter of the kids, and I’ve got three boys playing, and you don’t like to see anybody get run from behind, you’re in a position; in the old days, you’d never put yourself in that position.
Pretty soon, you’re gonna tell me that Wayne Gretzky thinks that the crackdown on obstruction is bad…oh, wait…
This is all about optics. Campbell can punish Chris Simon with one hand, go toe-to-toe with Brendan Witt on the other, but when the Sportscenter clips and mentions on the Today Show add up, it’s suddenly time to suggest that fighting is “scary?”
I don’t buy it, Collie. An “old time hockey” player like you ought to know that this game holds you accountable for your words as well as your actions, and your words add up to one big dipsy-doodle around hypocrisy.
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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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