NHL welcomes violence, so look out Sid!
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Only in the NHL, where gratuitous violence among the players not only is legal but encouraged, is it not the least bit preposterous to suggest that a coach hold his star players out of a game for fear of retaliation by the opponents.
Really, what other team sport is so barbaric? What other sport has so little regard for the welfare of its players?
There's virtually no chance that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will sit Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin when the team plays in Boston Thursday night. But maybe he should. Could you blame the angry Bruins if they seek a little vigilante justice for the hit by the Penguins' Matt Cooke on their Marc Savard a week ago, a shoulder-to-head blow that knocked Savard momentarily unconscious, left him with a severe concussion and probably ended his season and his team's playoff hopes along with it?
Heck, the NHL almost seems to be pushing for it. The more blood on the ice, the better, right?
In a decision that surprised even the Penguins -- many of whom thought the hit on Savard was over the top -- Cooke was not suspended despite having a history of being a head-hunter. The league's justification was twofold: 1. As bad as the hit looked, it was not against the rules as they are currently written; and 2. Other players have delivered similar brutal hits and not been suspended, including the Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richards, who drilled Florida's David Booth in October.
You have to hand it to the NHL suits in at least one sense: A player might die on the ice, but no one will be able to say they weren't consistent with their discipline.
They will be so proud.
Of course, the league officials say that isn't fair. They insist they have wanted to do something about hits to the head for a long time. Sorry, but that's hard to believe. If the league really wanted to eliminate head shots, all it would have to do is punish any perpetrator with a suspension and fine.
But that's not how the NHL works. It seems to welcome the violence. It was only after Cooke's hit on Savard that it, finally, put in a wordy and vague rule saying that certain hits to the head next season will result in a penalty and possible additional discipline from the league office.
I repeat, next season.
That doesn't figure to help Cooke, Crosby and Malkin in Boston Thursday night. Apparently, their heads will be fair game for the Bruins, who are livid about losing their best player, then watching the man who hit him skate away unpunished.
I wonder how NHL officials will feel if Crosby ends up on the ice unconscious, his face -- and the league's face, for that matter -- battered and bruised.
They probably would applaud, then climb back into their hole.
The nonsense has to stop. No less than the NHL players want that. Did you happen to read quotes from Penguins veteran winger Bill Guerin on these pages Thursday?
Apparently, those quotes didn't find their way to NHL headquarters.
"If a guy gets hurt like that with a shot to the head, there's got to be something [in terms of punishment]," Guerin said of Cooke's hit on Savard. "Guys don't mean to hurt each other, but they do. You've got to pay a price for that."
Guerin added, "We're all playing in the same league. We all want the same safety. We all want to be looked after the same way."
For the life of me, I can't figure out why those NHL suits can't hear that cry for help. Or why they have been so slow to try to create a better work environment for their high-priced employees.
Know this: The environment in Boston Thursday night is going to be nightmarish for the Penguins.
Maybe it will be enough for the Bruins if they get retribution with Cooke. It's easy to imagine, say, tough-guy winger Shawn Thornton challenging him to a fight early in the game. Cooke has been known to avoid such confrontations, but he likely would be willing to drop the gloves and take a beating if it means Crosby and Malkin won't be targeted.
But what if a little of Cooke's blood isn't enough for the Boston players? Is it really so hard to imagine the vigilante justice escalating into another Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore situation?
In the 2004 season, a hit from Moore, then playing for the Colorado Avalanche, left Vancouver captain Markus Naslund with a concussion. The play didn't draw a penalty in the game or a suspension. When the teams played again later that season, the Canucks decided to get even. Cooke, of all people, was playing for Vancouver at the time and got into a fight with Moore early in the game. Later, the Canucks' Bertuzzi, after failing to goad Moore into another fight, skated behind him and punched him in the back of the head, driving his face into the ice and fracturing three vertebrae in his neck. The incident ended Moore's career.
What if one of the Bruins does that to Cooke? Or even Crosby or Malkin? Savard is Boston's best player, after all. Why should the Bruins settle for going after Cooke, a role player?
Ridiculous, you say?
You don't know the NHL.
After Cooke's hit on Savard, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said he was "disappointed" that his players didn't react to it, presumably meaning that they should have gone after Cooke right then, even though it was late in a one-goal game and the Bruins need every point they can get to make the playoffs. Who's to say Thornton, for instance, won't try to score big points with his boss and teammates Thursday night? So what if he gets suspended for the rest of the season, as Bertuzzi was in '04? He might think it's worth it if he can take out Cooke or Crosby or Malkin.
It is worth repeating:
Only in the NHL.
First Published March 14, 2010 12:00 am