Q: Colby Armstrong took exception to a hip check Monday by (Phoenix defenseman) Keith Ballard, and the broadcasters seemed to agree with him for being upset, the reasoning being that hip checks are more likely to lead to injury. My question is, if that is true, why aren't hip checks banned? And if it is not true, why would a player take exception to a legal, tough hit when Armstrong could just as well make the same kind of hit later in the game?
Robert, North Hills
MOLINARI: Hip checks are something of a lost art in the NHL these days, rare enough that they usually don't go unmentioned when someone throws one. They can be an effective, and sometimes spectacular, way of taking a puck-carrier out of the play, but timing the hit well is imperative. If the prospective hitter doesn't do so, he probably isn't going to make contact with anything but air, and the only thing he'll get for his trouble is a megadose of embarrassment.
The danger inherent in a hip check is that if the hitter comes in at knee level, his target could end up with a serious injury. That can happen even if the aggressor isn't looking to throw a dirty hit (which is scant consolation for the recipient if he has to have his knee surgically reconstructed). And while you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who likes to absorb any kind of hit -- be very, very wary of those who profess to enjoy it -- players are particularly afraid of contact on or near their knees because of the profound impact it can have on a career.
Despite the risks associated with it, however, the feeling here is that the hip check should not be outlawed. Anyone who has seen one delivered effectively -- except for players who have been sent cartwheeling through the air by one, of course -- likely will agree.
Q: Wouldn't it be just what the doctor ordered to make Jordan Staal available to the Canadian world junior squad? It seems that the kid is only sporadic with his confidence and sending him to play with the kids would do nothing but pay dividends to the tournament and the two teams involved. Are there good reasons of which I am not aware that Ray Shero should not make this accommodation?
Mark Cote, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
MOLINARI: One thing that should be established up front is that the Penguins -- and every other NHL club -- should not be expected to have the best interests of Canada's world-junior team in mind when making personnel moves. If sending a young player to Team Canada (or any other club participating in the tournament) is deemed to be in that player's interest, he should go; if not, the junior club should resign itself to getting by without that particular guy. The NHL is not Hockey Canada's developmental league.
In Staal's case, he actually has been playing his best hockey of the season of late -- he had points in four of the five games that preceded the Penguins' visit to Edmonton last night after struggling to produce offensively through the first quarter of the season -- and there's no reason to think he would benefit from playing against teenagers, even if he were to dominate in the tournament.
That certainly seems to be the thinking of general manager Ray Shero, who made it clear recently that he regards Staal as an NHL player who would have nothing to gain from competing in the world juniors. Edmonton, by the way, has applied the same logic to rookie center Sam Gagner. Even without those two -- and any other young players whose teams decline to loan them to Team Canada -- Canada should have an excellent shot at winning the championship for the fourth consecutive time.