Everything Else

Admittedly, comparing what goes on between the lines/boards of football and hockey is hardly a perfect juxtaposition. These are different sports with different rules, different methods, and different aims. So let’s say that up top. But last night’s Steelers-Bengals game was particularly ugly, and could be a huge piece of evidence against the “FIGHTING WOULD SOLVE EVERYTHING!” crowd in hockey.

There are probably a couple more caveats here. First off, the Bengals and Steelers is probably football’s most poisonous rivalry at the moment. And there’s a long history. So this is the absolute extreme of the ugliness football can have on the field when two teams feel they have to “sort it out themselves.” You wouldn’t get this from say, Packers-Cardinals or something. But it’s not like hockey doesn’t have teams with ugly history where everyone is on high-alert from the opening whistle. It wasn’t so long ago that Hawks-Canucks felt more like WarGames than it did a hockey game. And it’s a good thing that hockey feels less and less like this, and you need look no further than last night to see why.

I’ll let Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky sum it up:

But they can’t police each other. Or rather, this—last night—is what that policing looks like. It’s enforcement. It’s punitive. It’s an escalating cycle of revenge. You take out our guy, we’ll take out your guy. And it doesn’t work. If it worked, if players feared retaliation, we wouldn’t see the dirty hits in the first place. But we still do. We always have.

Seeing as how Barry is Deadspin’s leading hockey guy, I think he knows exactly what he’s saying here, or at least has written very similar thoughts about hockey. Because this has always been the theory for those who can’t let go of the past. That if hockey players could police themselves there wouldn’t be any hits from behind or boardings or goalies run or whatever else.

And that’s always been bullshit. One, those things have always been part of hockey even when Dave Semenko or Dave Schultz were allowed to pile-drive anyone they saw fit and barely get a penalty for it. To wish for a simpler time in hockey when players respected each other and never did anything dirty to each other is to wish for a time that didn’t exist.

If hockey were to let this go, things wouldn’t end with “just a fight.” There would be vengeance for that fight, and on and on it would go until someone really got hurt. And what would be solved then, other than a few very insecure men in the crowd feeling their oats? Because nothing bad has ever happened from that, right?

Much like Barry goes on to say later in this post, discipline needs to be the league’s job.. And if it’s serious about player safety, which it only is to the point that it doesn’t end up in court, it would really start to get the hammer out. Radko Gudas should have gotten 20 games, if not more. Attempts to injure, and do not fool yourself because  blindside hits and boardings are in most cases, need to have 5-10 game suspensions. The next Raffi Torres shouldn’t have to commit seven to eight utterly heinous acts before he gets a 40-game suspension.

But the NHL won’t because it still fears the backlash of a bunch of crusty, angry fans who are going to show up anyway. In truth, the fact that they yell the loudest almost certainly signals they are in the minority, because that’s how it usually works.

We make a pact with ourselves of course whenever we watch football or hockey (or MMA or boxing or pick whatever you want here). We know they’re highly dangerous, and really all we ask is that the players on display are fully aware of the risks they are taking. At this day and age, I think most are and are still more than happy to be out there. And we can live with that.

But last night crossed a line, and I can’t imagine I know anyone who watched Ryan Shazier or later the hits on Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown and felt good about it. And I know you can sit here and say Burfict is the dirtiest player in the league, and you’d probably be right. And maybe you think that makes what happened to him justified, but who draws that line? Do you think they feel that way on the Bengals sideline? Do they come looking for their own bounty in return? Who decides when it’s settled?

And that’s what hockey would look like if we returned to the 70’s and 80’s, except the players now are bigger, stronger, and faster. Trust me, Dave Schultz today would get his ass handed to him on a nightly basis (he was 6-1, 190. That makes him the same size as Patrick Sharp, basically.

It would become something no one would want except the truly unhinged. Sadly, hockey has always bowed to its unhinged quality, fearing that it cannot live without them.

Everything Else

Most of the year, we’ve tried to point out that the Hawks’ success this year is largely built on their goaltender and their power play. Yesterday, I went through the brilliance of their goaltender. Today I thought it might be good to look at the power play, but not just in context of the Hawks. Because there’s something a little weird happening this season with the teams with the best power plays.

Generally, power play success isn’t indicative of playoff success. Ask the San Jose Sharks. In fact, the last time a team led the league in power play percentage and won the Cup was the Penguins in 2009. It just doesn’t happen that often.

Everything Else

Boy, it hasn’t been the best week for goalies to reward my faith in the sport or humanity, has it?

Though I can’t tell you how delighted I am that on the day after Brian Burke wrote his article in USA Today defending fighting and talking about how “The Code” would solve everything if only we would let it, Ray Emery and the Flyers pretty much shit all over it. Even though Emery thinks he was in line with “The Code” because he told Braden Holtby he was going to punch him regardless of what Holtby thought. Oh wow Razor!  You beat up a guy who wasn’t trying to fight you! HOW TOUGH YOU ARE! Maybe next you can go brag about how you scored with your own girlfriend after!

Everything Else

I know what happens when you don’t wait around for actual convictions and the whole “innocent until proven guilty” premise that our country is kind of built on. But last night touched a very raw nerve that I have when it comes to domestic abuse and violence against women perpetrated by athletes. So I’m going to jump all that.

I would love nothing more than Gary Bettman to suspend Semyon Varlamov for 40 games, or 80, or more, and for the players’ union to do absolutely nothing about it.

But of course, we don’t live in that fantasy world where scumbags like Varlamov get what they assuredly deserve.

Everything Else

I was going to post a Central Division roundtable that I’d put together with our blogging friends from around the division. But I’m going to shelve that until tomorrow, even though I’m hesitant to pile even more onto what is admittedly a tired debate about the place of fighting and goons in the game. But it needs to be addressed, I think.

As you know, last night George Parros took a nasty fall and had to be stretchered off. He’ll be ok, as only his Princeton-educated brain was bruised. Or however ok you can be when you have a brain injury (which we really should start calling it, just like “Global Warming” should be “Climate Change.”) His face-plant into the ice didn’t really have much to do with fighting, and could have happened in any portion of the game. I remember Kevin Stevens taking such a fall and having a very nasty injury, and that was just a play around the net.

But of course, it’s going to engender a whole new round of furious discussion. My views are well stated, but just to reiterate: Though I’m not one who calls for the end of fighting, I recognize that there really is no way to keep the fights I can accept (two actual players spontaneously getting angry at each other) while getting rid of those I abhor (the staged ones between two slobs who serve no other purpose, and neither does their fight). So I would have to accept a total ban on fighting, and would be all right with that.

But it doesn’t matter where you stand, because fighting will be phased out. And it will be phased out not only because of player safety, but because of the evolution of the sport.

Everything Else

So Stan what did you think of Ray’s performance in PHX: ESPNChi

That aside, they’re off to a good start: CSN (autoplay)

But really, its a bit early to say they’re this good: CST

A staged debate over staged fighting: PHT

Speaking of bad behavior a look at the ol’ snow job: TSN

Brunner is even dirtier however: PD

Twitter reaction to doppelganger hijinks: SN