2 Games??? That’s all Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins got for blind-siding Artem Anisimov in a blowout win. Watch Cooke’s Hit To The Head And it was the second time he’s done this in his NHL career. Thankfully, Anisimov was not seriously hurt — assuming you define “seriously hurt” to exclude needing smelling salts to remember where you are and being unable to play the rest of the game.
What will it take for the NHL to dole out punishments that actually deter attackers? Does the league need to see Crosby motionless on the ground during the Winter Classic? How about Ovechkin writing like a NHLPA Sega Genesis player after an injury? Was Lindros’ wrecked career really not enough?
What possible reason can the league reasonably offer for why these hits are not illegal already?
— Too subjective to call on the ice? Please. Officiating by nature is subjective. Besides, at worst, long suspensions meted out after-the-game still can be given.
— Will result in decreased hitting overall? Not a chance. There are legions of tough hard-hitting games in which no one tries to decapitate a DEFENSELESS player.
— Will decrease ratings? No way. No one, not even the most callous and transient of hockey viewers, watches games for cheap shots. You may not be able to look away when one occurs (let’s leave a discussion of the failings of human nature for another time…), but you always wish it did not happen. Regardless of what team you are on. Besides, how will ratings be affected Mr. Bettman if a superstar misses significant time? Certainly not positively.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the league that is at fault. At least two other groups deserve blame. One is the GMs. They are your players! You are paying them! Do you really want to visit one in the hospital and hear him say to his wife “Who are you?” Or, putting aside the emotional reasoning, how is it good business to lose a player? Vote to make it illegal to hit someone in the head with anything (shoulder, elbow, whatever) if they are “in a defenseless position,” regardless of the position of the puck. I think the officials can handle this call. Basically, if it looks like a cheap shot and smells like a cheap shot, then it is a cheap shot. You can even exempt out from this rule all hits along the boards, if the GMs, as they say, really are worried about too much control on hitting. We already have boarding calls and other penalties to protect us in these situations. It is inexcusable why this has not been done — in fact, why it has been affirmatively passed over — at the last GM meetings.
But the other group that deserves blame is the players. What kind of low-life are you to line up a fellow player and potentially end his career, or his life? Players need to bear responsibility for checking themselves. If a guy is not looking do not hit him in the head. Pretty freaking easy. Beyond that, if it does happen, players need to stick up for their teammates and police themselves. This means two things: (1) hitting real hard, but cleanly, opposing stars, and (2) fighting the guy that took the cheap shot.
Which gets me to the oft talked about instigator penalty. I do not agree much with Torts, but I 100% agree with him when he said recently that the instigator penalty is a joke. What end does it serve? None. It simply allows perpetrators to skate away scot-free, without fear of retribution. Arguably, it even benefited Cooke. He got to choose who he fought. When Brashear tried to start something — as he should — Cooke curled away and the linesmen (wrongly) interceded to break it up. It was then left to Callahan to fight Cooke. Great work by Cally, but come on. If you level a player you should know that you will have to defend yourself against more than a bantamweight.
And in the instances when a player tries to instigate a fight against another who actually did nothing for which it mandates he fight (per NHL custom), then that player simply should not fight. Either skate away or curl up in a ball and wait for the linesmen to break it up. You may not earn macho points in the opposing clubhouse, but you will earn your team a power play. A recent example of this is Avery against Pittsburgh Saturday night. He blind-sided and jumped Fedentenko. Fedentenko did nothing to provoke it or in response — he curled up in a ball and waited for help, which came rapidly. His team did not mock him. The fans did not mock him. Instead, they got a 7 minute power play and Avery was tossed from the game.
As a hockey fan and a person I do not want to see Crosby or Ovechkin injured. But if that is what it takes for the NHL, GMs, and players to get their heads screwed on correctly, so be it. It will be a sad day, but one that saves many careers (and perhaps lives).