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NHL Suspensions Make Sense

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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.

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About Alessandro Nicolo

  • nicolas

    cmon alessandro, you can’t say ‘other people are getting away with it’ without actually giving any examples.

    unless you can show me an NHL incident as violent as these two where a player didnt get suspended or got fewer games, I’d say Campbell has been consistent since the lockout.

    I think the bigger question is WTF is going on in Philly? I agree with others that it says a lot about the Flyers’ coach that these two ridiculous incidents happened a) in a preseason game and b) when the team was WINNING by five goals.

    I’ll give Downie a second chance since he’s a rookie trying to make a place for himself, and rookies do dumb stuff, but Boulerice is old enough to know better and has never been anything but a goon (look up Andrew Long).

  • alessandro

    Nicolas,

    Are you kidding me? Do you want past and present?

    If you watch as many games as I do you would not have asked for examples. You should know them.

    NHL hockey fans are well aware of the play of Jordin Tootoo who is oft-regarded as a dangerous player. Colby Armstrong is another. Jarkko Ruutu is yet another. Gary Roberts and Brian McCabe have recently gotten away with questionable plays. Even Mats Sundin has pulled some good ones for some reason.

    Campbell and the NHL have done a good job but there are still some inconsistencies/non-calls. Another issue some people have with the NHL is that they tend to be lenient on hits that don’t lead to serious injuries – though Boulerice seems to buck that trend and which is why I posted this.

    In the past, we had Gary Suter, Claude Lemieux, Ulf Samuelsson and Bryan Marchment – to name a few.

    I agree on the Philly thing. Hey, I’m sure Flyers fans who remember Shultz, Leach, Barber and Clarke are happy.

  • nicolas

    suter, lemieux, marchment, etc…those didnt even happen under the current disciplinarians, so you cant reference them when you talk about consistency of those currently in charge.

    yes, there have been some like tootoo that may have (in our opinion, i remember the discussion) been shorter than we’d like, but for some of those, i dont think we know enough about the situation or cambell’s thought process to say the judgement was really WRONG.

    call me a homer pens fan for defending ruutu and roberts, but do not include colby armstrong. he is NOT a dangerous player and the incident he was involved in last year was a clean hit on a guy who got caught skating with his head down. it happens.

    i agree that incidents like a certain nashville sucker punch last season should be of the 20 game type, and guys like mcsorley, boulerice, downie should be getting closer to 40 games…but we aren’t colin cambel, and the guy probably has his reasons.

  • alessandro

    Ok, homer :<)

    By the way, I forgot to mention Dale Hunter.

    Armstrong will take his run at people. As a side note and for the sake of argument, Roberts has always been one of the dirties (people call it grit) players in the league whether in Calgary, Toronto, Carolina, Florida or Pittsburgh.

    They are all part of the same cycle. Campbell was indeed director of hockey operations while those players were around – albeit on the tail end of their careers in some cases. His first major file was McSorely/Brashear. He also, of course, dealt with Bertuzzi.

    There have been numerous dangerous hits to the head that have either gone unreported or overlooked. It happens more often than fans care to think.

    I think we’re kinda of saying the same thing. Campbell has been the most effective and consistent director in my opinion. All I’m saying is that it’s about time they come down hard on this sort of stuff given the potential of serious injury.

  • nicolas

    fair enough, but it’s still silly lumping guys like mcsorley and boulerice in with guys like armstrong, roberts, or say darcy tucker (guys who actually have talents beyond the ability to deliver a hit – even if, in roberts case, that lone other talent is standing in front of the net to create traffic and then kicking in rebounds).

  • alessandro

    Fair enough.

    Now go watch your Pens!

  • alessandro

    Looks like the message is not getting trough to the Philadelphia Flyers. They sent yet another guy to the stretcher this time Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. He apparently loss feeling in his legs. Scary.

    Let’s not mince words: out of character or not, dirty hit from behind.

    I just don’t get it anymore.

  • Cathy

    I will have to Agree these rules should be stricter for the saftey of the players!!!!!!