Before we get too deep here, let’s settle a few things. Hockey is magnificent, it’s genuine (aside from a few blemishes) and is finally finding its stride after suffering from two dead puck eras in a decade.
To me, hockey is as close to fully functional as you’re going to get, especially with the changes that have come since the 2004-05 lockout. I have no issue with players actively pursuing what they believe to be fair in the new CBA, nor do I take offense with refs involving themselves in on ice shenanigans. Finally I do not condone what Dennis Wideman did to Don Henderson.
“By the age of 18 the average American has witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on television. Most of them occurring during game one of the NHL playoff series” -Steve Rushin.
Hockey is fast.
Really, really fast.
Hockey is also violent.
Really, really violent.
In the last decade alone, the NHL has seen a culture shift. The game now focuses on being faster and more skill oriented, leaving behind the days of grit and brute force winning you a championship.
With that, the average number of fights in an NHL season has decreased, initially you think “well, that’s a good thing!” and it is. CTE is a very real fear that has been brought directly to our living rooms by virtue of documentaries and news clips.
Goons and other forms of troublemakers are being replaced in starting lineups with young gun, speed oriented, skill harboring players.
Similarly to modern day civilization, the battle to police advancing technology has posed more of a challenge than initially suspected. The same can be said about hockey.
Fighting is down, yes. Hitting is not.
More specifically, hits to the head and boarding penalties are reaching sky high numbers because officials have been instructed to police fighting more strictly. Leaving the door slightly ajar to illegal body contact.
You could argue that with the lack of “goons” or “grinders” on the ice to stick up for teammates less inclined to engage in physical altercation, gives agitators more freedom to do really whatever the hell they want out there. With a complete and total lack of repercussion.
Dennis Wideman found himself in the most bizarre of situations this past year. In a game against the Nashville Predators, Wideman was sideswiped by the elbow of Miikka Salomaki.
Recovering from the blow, Wideman immediately grabs his head to indicate he was injured on the play. As he skates towards the bench he targeted and cross checked referee Don Henderson in his upper back.
Wideman publicly apologized after initially blaming his actions on a self diagnosed concussion post game.
Don Henderson is a 47 year old linesman who needed off season neck surgery to fix damages suffered from the Wideman hit. Going public this past week saying his career may very well be over.
More horrifying is that in the first round of the 2016 NHL playoffs alone, there were two distinct boarding/hits from behind. Delivered to Derek Stepan and Dmitry Orlov.
In Stepan’s case, there was no call on the play, which is somewhat concerning. Now, there appeared to be no intent to injure but at the very least warranted a 2 minute minor.
When calls like this go unmade more often than not a equal or greater retaliation soon follows.
For Orlov, there was a five minute major and a game misconduct handed to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. In this situation, the hit was far more violent quantified by the fact it was a blowout in favor of the Capitals. Washington was awarded a power play. Bellemare was tossed from the game and in the following matchup he had to face the music.
That’s how hockey should be handled. In the matchup between the Bruins and Penguins following his hit on then all star Marc Savard. Matt Cooke threw fists with Shawn Thornton behind a rumpus TD Garden crowd. Then that was it, the hatchet was buried.
Hockey is a game of unwritten rules and respect, when you cross the line you have to be prepared to face the consequences of your actions. With the lack of enforcers on the ice players have more freedom to bend and stretch the rules with no fear of owning up to it.
You never want to see hits like this happen, but when they do, the responsibility falls on the two referees and the two linesman to make at the very least, a minor penalty call.
This is a call to action, nobody deserves to have their career derailed because someone takes liberties on a defenseless player. A classic case of give and take, it starts with the officials consistently making the correct calls and enforcing more strict penalties. From there, the players have to respect one another enough to eliminate that aspect of hockey from the game.
So, is it benign neglect on behalf of the NHL and its officials? Or is it a lack of overall respect between players? Let the debate begin.
Even Bobby Orr, one of the greatest to ever lace up skates, is concerned that hockey has become too big and fast for its own good.
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