by SENShobo on 12/22/08 at 01:57 PM ET
Tis the season to be jolly, be merry, and of course to have wish lists for those shiny boxes under the tree come Christmas morn.
Like some children asking for a pony, or like me every time I asked for a car, some wish lists go unfilled, but just like the gifts themselves, the wishing and hoping is important. If not for now, then in some cases at least for later.
With that, I continue writing my NHL wish list, five things I’d like to see from the League that I believe will benefit not only fans, but the players and the League as well. Today, I want to stress the importance of ‘coal’.
My NHL Christmas Wish List thus far:
Better out-of-arena viewing options for fans
Better and more accessible statistics
Better direction with the next CBA to heal and even grow the League
Today’s item: Better approach to League discipline, suspensions, and acceptable conduct
It’s quite simply the basis of every game out there: without rules, there is no game.
Rules are rarely celebrated, but each and every one makes up the game we love.
Most recently, you will recall an incident involving Sean Avery, and two words that he strung together to combine for a 6-game suspension.
Speaking about the incident, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that “What Sean Avery said was wrong. It was offensive. It was disgusting. We have a lot of women who are fans. We have a lot of children who are fans, and to be perfectly honest I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my 12-year-old daughter what he said.”
It is fair to say that the League should be open to fans of all ages, but for interest’s sake, I wonder how many who were offended by the comment or did not want to explain it have watched or shown their kids the classic movie Grease. Yes, for reference, it also uses that same pair of words in the exact same context, but that is beside the point.
The point is that of late, the League has only just started to take aim at applying suspensions in a way that makes sense. When Jarkko Ruutu’s elbow hit Maxime Lapierre’s head (no injury), he recieved a two-game suspension. While he was suspended, the Senators’ Ryan Shannon received a hit to the head from the Isles’ Thomas Pock (out for several games with post-concussion symptoms), and Pock received a five-game suspension.
Prior to that, suspensions were harder to view as a consistently-applied judgment, and that is essential. Sport is not the real world, but at the same time those who break the rules need to be punished and disciplined appropriately. Does it make sense that we should not have to explain what Sean Avery said in a dressing room before a game that earned him a six-game suspension, while less than 20 months earlier, on the biggest stage in the NHL (the Stanley Cup Playoffs), we had to explain why Chris Pronger, whose repeat offenses combined with playing on the privileged stage of the Playoffs and Stanley Cup Final more than justified extremely harsh punishments, and we were left to explain why twice he only received a single game suspension for hits to the head, the same hits to the head that are now two- and five-game suspension for those with no previous suspensions?
I’d rather my child hear Sean Avery’s comments than grow up believing that high profile individuals will get special, lighter, unfair treatment. I’d prefer it to having to explain why words merit punishment, but physically injuring other players, sometimes on purpose and with just as much advanced thought as Avery’s comments, deserves little thought, care, or punishment, if it earns any at all.
Saturday, I had to watch as Daniel Alfredsson was taken out during the second Sens game I attended this season, a hit from behind that appeared to smash both Alfredsson’s face and shoulder into the ledge between the boards and the glass, one that saw him helped off the ice amid a chorus of boos from fans. (see a fan video here)
I can accept that the refs aren’t going to see everything on the ice, just as police won’t catch everyone who jaywalks or doesn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign. But, yet again, I would not want to have to explain to my kids why players are being injured by such blatant acts. Jere Lehtinen is not known for such things, but all players have had to learn that when you see a pair of numbers, you have to be able to react, avoid injury. Tom Kostopoulos failed to do so when he hit Mike Van Ryn from behind, chasing after the puck, and was suspended for three games, and when the Habs played the Sens without Kostopoulos, Maxime Lapierre found himself barreling down on the Sens’ Jason Smith in the exact same spot and fashion. Coming up on the number 21 instead of the Senators’ logo, he reacted in a split second to smear Smith, rather than destroy him.
Can everything be caught? No. But I can’t expect that Gary Bettman or any hockey fan would want to explain to their kids that acts that injure should not be punished, no matter how illegal or how much damage they cause in some cases, merely because the officials on the ice did not see it. No matter how many of the 20,000 fans in the arena, or hundreds of thousands of fans who witness these kinds of events on television, or the video review available to all after the fact, I don’t want to tell my children that it does not matter. That is a far more frightening world to put any child, or individual, into, far more than a world in which a player can hurl a few inappropriate words.
Change takes time, discussion, and agreement to happen, but for all that trudging, for all the concerns and worry, there are times when it is worth it. A serious approach to what is and is not acceptable, how far the League will go to police the game and make it a physical but not wild-west anarchy-filled environment, that is an essential task the League must face, and not an issue to be swept under the Christmas rug and tossed out with the tree once the season has passed.
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Native of Northern California. Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.
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My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked. I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind. When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom. It hasn't, I don't think it will. At all.
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