Point/Counterpoint is a new series which argues both sides of a topic relevant to the Philadelphia Flyers. As always, the potential for a member of the Orange and Black to have a face-to-face meeting in New York City after a bout of gritty “Flyers hockey: exists constantly.
This week, Nick D and Bob H ”debate” whether or not the new system of determining what is an illegal hit and how NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan handles any suspensions is working.
Nick D (Point): The NHL has a new sheriff in town and his name is Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan has brought credibility, transparency, and consistency to the department of player safety as well as a staunch stance against hits that are unnecessary and unwanted in the National Hockey League. Under Shanahan, rules have been re-written and made more straightforward so as to not add to confusion about what types of hits will be deemed legal or illegal and his department has taken action to not only prove a point, but to improve a game that is played at the highest level in the world.
Bob H (Counterpoint): Hey — isn’t the whole “new sheriff in town” the premise for all the good Westerns? You know, the ones where the new arrival has to battle crime and corruption and money stealing and horse abusing and whore mongering and his own fears of getting blowed up so he’s over-matched until Gary Cooper or The Duke rides out of the sunrise to finally intervene?
Actually, I don’t think Shanahan caused any rules to be re-written. You can thank Matt Cooke and Sean Avery and half a dozen other idiots around the league who are only known for being thugs personally for that stuff.
No, instead ol’ Shanny Pants is stuck being the fall guy as the front man for the NHL’s sham operation. While the actual kind of hits that are illegal have been better defined than ever before, it remains to be seen whether all this point-proving will have the desired effect. We all know it’s just a way for Bettman to keep his Golden Children Malkin and Crosby as untouched as a Canadian mountain stream.
ND: In the two previous seasons, the NHL has stated that they wanted head shots out of their game. The players want them gone, the front office of the league, owners, general managers, even fans want them gone and Brendan Shanahan is not messing around. In the preseason, we saw nine suspensions doled out to nine different players for things that the league clearly does not want in the game anymore. There were four suspensions given for hits to the head, two for boarding, two for checking from behind, and one for leaving the bench to fight an opponent.
BH: Isn’t it more like the previous 12 seasons?? And yet now, the kingpins who always wanted things the old traditional way have flip-flopped when they realized that their prized investments could bite the dust sooner or later. Charlatans, all of ‘em! Guess the mental picture of Alex Ovechkin drooling in his Hoveround at age 50 wasn’t a pretty picture!
I mean, nine suspensions??? It’s not like anyone launched themselves like a missile at Dean McAmmond or decided to do a bumper-car impersonation on Ryan Hollweg! Once you take the ability to use discretion away from the referees and those higher up, you simply turn into a machine, and Shanahan has proven what the league is really up to by spitting out his decisions like a combination of Judge Dredd and your typical neighborhood ATM.
Time was, you got three games for being first off the bench in an actual BENCH-CLEARING BRAWL! Now, you get suspended for “leaving the bench” for a “legal line change” just to engage a fellow scrapper in a fight! OUTRAGE!
ND: The stiffest penalties were given to James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Jody Shelley of the Philadelphia Flyers, receiving 12 games and 10 games respectively, primarily for their statuses as repeat offenders.
There were also long suspensions given to Jean Francois-Jacques (who received nine games for leaving the bench to start a fight), Brendan Smith (who received eight games for an illegal check to the head), and Brad Staubitz (who received seven games for hitting from behind). Shanahan has given out three different suspensions during the regular season of two games with a fourth pending the result of a hearing, all for differing offenses.
As hard as the gavel has come down in terms of some of these suspensions, it’s absolutely clear that the league wants to change the mentality of the players in their game in order to both respect those out on the ice, as well as have a hard line drawn about what is legal and what is illegal by releasing videos that explain and delineate why a check in question has been deemed as such and what the logic in the ruling is.
BH: Hahahahahahaaaaaa…that’s funny. Change the mentality of the players. As if losing games and a pittance from their paychecks will effectively alter the brain chemistry of men who have been trained since boyhood to do exactly as their coaching staffs have dictated.
You’re never going to change the mindset of a piece of meat which is essentially an empty shell awaiting instruction from someone with a title. It’s a wonder these trained seals can understand a system that’s NOT the neutral zone trap, let alone to not try to kill when he sees an opponent in open ice or along the boards.
If the NHL is realllly serious about changing the mindset, let’s dip deeply into the well, shall we, and hit Ovie or Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane with a 5-to-10-gamer for some future gruesome misdeed. James Wisniewski? J.F. Jacques? Jody Shelley? Let’s string up a name with some marquee value and put the sentence on national television! THAT’S what’s going to make players stand up and take notice — the elimination of the double standards between skilled and unskilled players, between first-time and repeat offenders.
ND: This is a good thing for the game in the long run.
As ugly as the press in the preseason was with all of the headlines and negativity that surrounded the NHL for the violence that occurs on the ice, and as questions arose as to why so many players were receiving supplementary discipline, the idea is to change how players think out there on the ice and how they react to a plethora of situations. If the consequences of a player’s actions on the ice not only can but will result in a mandated leave of absence, then they will think twice about making a hit that they simply don’t have to make. The point isn’t to take the physicality out of the game, but to increase player safety and also force players into making better decisions about how to make a hit and when.
Another great thing the Department of Player Safety under Shanahan has done is released videos of good, though clean, hard hits illustrating checks where players make full body contact or in cases where they make good decisions in relationship to play along the boards or when a player sees the numbers of an opposing player.
In both cases, the videos do a great job of explaining to players, fans, and anyone who cares about hockey what is either good or bad about a check that may be up for closer examination.
In conclusion, these videos and what Brendan Shanahan is trying to achieve with them, is working and although it may take a few rough months or years even, the result will be players still giving the big hits they always do, just not trying to end someone’s career.
In the end, it will improve the game because players like Eric Lindros and Marc Savard will not have their careers cut short due to concussions, but players like Chris Pronger and Niklas Kronwall, can still deliver the big, clean, hard, open ice hits that we all love to see.
BH: Nick, you ignorant slut…
The National Hockey League will be a whipping boy no matter what happens. It is by all reckoning, the seventh-most popular sport in the USA. Why should it really go to these lengths to clean up its act? It’s just going to come up looking like a whitewash, and, once the inevitable Film-at-11 season-ending bloodletting occurs, its efforts to clean up are just going to come under increasing fire.
If you wanted a Ronald Reagan-type character to lead the NHL into its internal Cold War against serious injuries, you got him. It’s Bedtime for Bonzo whenever Mr. Matinee Idol reads out the script of his latest judgement with all the passion and emotion of your typical C-level flick of the 1960s.
As usual, the NHL is playing an elaborate version of the Avon Lady. It is only interested in making cosmetic changes to the rules and landscape, no matter how intricately things are dressed.
The weekly editions of the NHL’s Cinema Show actually enhances the fundamental idiocy of the actual policies which drive this so-called crackdown. It’s great that Shanahan can explain to the letter of the law the what, why and how of each individual infraction. But it rings hollow with every release that proceeds it, which explains that said player was still suspended despite either drawing no penalty or a simple minor penalty for the offending action.
You really want to prevent repeats of Lindros, Savard, et al going forward? Get every coach from atoms to juniors to stop picking these hairy behemoths. Get every GM in hockey to stop selecting players over 6-foot-2 and over 220 pounds. Pat Verbeek was dirty as hell, but he never caused concussions. Neither did Rob DiMaio. Neither will Brian Gionta or Nathan Gerbe.
And anyway, is there any employee of any company on Earth who really gets a charge out of those sexual harrassment or workplace danger videos? Can’t you see that NHL players are going to simply get sick of having to review these things ad nauseam and resort to nodding off, tuning them out or worse?