The NHL suspended Jesse Boulerice of the Philadelphia Flyers for 25 games following his vicious cross check to the face of Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kessler.
It was the right decision and signals that the NHL is finally ready to deal with the issue. It only takes a few to bring bad (and sometimes overblown) press to the league. Ironically, compared to the other major North American sports, hockey players (on average) are a grounded and tame bunch. So I would not be quick to apply the “barbaric” tag on them.
The NHL is barely a couple of weeks old and already it has been confronted with a couple of violent incidences. The first one was when Flyers forward Steve Downie (who said the Broadstreet Bullies are dead?) for his hit on Dean “This is Ottawa, not Kansas” McAmmond of the Ottawa Senators.
The only thing needed now is to be more consistent. While Downie and Boulerice have had to pay for their stupid actions, there are plenty of players who are getting away with their own indiscretions.
Of course, not everyone will be happy. Whenever we’re faced with this sort of stuff we’re told “it’s part of the game.” I didn’t realize head-hunting was part of the rules of hockey. If allowing for violent hits are to be tolerated under the guise that “it’s part of the game” then the NHL has to radically rethink how it wants to shape its image.
For their part, traditionalists hark back to a time when players “respected” one another (except when Maurice Richard was on a rampage or Gordie Howe throwing an elbow) and would never do what is being witnessed today.
Is it wishful thinking to try and weed out dirty hits? How do you draw the line between intent to injure and a hard, clean body check with any consistency? We’re about to find out but I don’t think the NHL has been left with any other alternative.
The perception of what constitutes “physical play” is the key here. For most fans, physical play is a fair battle in front of the net as players jostle for position, a clean body check or the odd fight to let out some steam.
However, the NHL has strict rules in place when it comes to fighting and fans, players and commentators feel that players who deliberately peruse the ice like vigilantes do so without consequence.
With the instigator and third man rule no likely to be lifted, the best the NHL can do is keep handing out heavy suspensions and/or fines until these cement – er, ice heads get the message.
In the age of concussions and with athletes resembling Ivan Drago in their work out regimes, the head must be off limits.
To those who cite history, and I happen to be one of those people: it doesn’t matter how the game was once played. History is history. It can play tricks on us. What matters is the present. In today’s context what we have seen with Downie and Boulerice offends our sense of fair play.
People now instinctively and collectively feel that someone will one day truly get hurt if this persists. Some have said “do we have to wait until someone dies?” Until recently, the NHL was certainly acting like it was.
Judging by the recent suspensions ( an astronomic and unprecedented combined 45 games) to Downie and Boulerice, the NHL have taken the right steps towards ridding the game of needless ugly incidences that tarnish hockey. If the players don’t get it then the next step is to suspend the coach and if the coach doesn’t learn his lesson then the team should face the consequences in whatever form the NHL feels is appropriate.
The NHL needs to show leadership and be proactive. The integrity of the game and the health of its players are skating on it.
The margin of someone getting a concussion or becoming paralyzed (or worse) is way too thin now.