Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poor Van Ryn

Twice the Victim; Differing Reactions

Injuries and suspensions. The NHL seem to link these two in the mind like Southern US and expansion opportunity. They see one, they see the other. Without one, they often forget about the other.

The Daily Hab-it once again brings up some nice point about this matter. There they focus on why Kostopoulos got a three game suspension and why Ruutu only got two. It's a very valid observation. I agree with Arpon that Tom deserved three games (if not more) and that it was the Jarkko Ruutu suspension that is out of whack.

While it's tempting to lay all the blame at the feet of Colin Campbell and the NHL head honchos. It's my opinion that they are only trying to tread a fine line. Even with the Kostopoulos hit, where injury occurred, there were supporters for the offender. I'm not only referring to the people who suggest Tom would have stopped if he could, but was too committed, but also those who still feel like they would prefer to see hits like this than not.

When you take the injury out of the equation altogether. And the play is judged without the complication of guilt over an injured player, then I really begin to see support from the faction of fans who ultimately like hockey for its ruggedness, its hitting.

Take the example of Milan Lucic's hit on the very same Mike Van Ryn. A few weeks ago, this hit was all over the internet – people were singing the praises of Lucic and marvelling at the beauty of the hit (even Habs bloggers who dislike Lucic as a rule).

I don't need to see the hit in slow motion, or to be told twice that that hit could have been calamitous for Van Ryn. Lucic came from at least half the rink away at full tilt with no interest in retrieving the puck (he'd have been too late) and intent only to throw his 220 lb frame at the opponent. Thank goodness the glass breaks in that instance, because otherwise Van Ryn comes between irresistible force and immovable object with only a thin plastic hat to protect him.

It's worth noting that Lucic was not suspended for the hit, though he clearly had no intent of playing the puck (or affecting the play – it was a dump in). He also took many many strides (which I think is illegal) and left his skates. I think it's fair to say that had the glass not broken, the hit would have ended in a crumpled Van Ryn and suspension for Lucic. Had Van Ryn been injured, the suspension would have been long.

I'll admit, I used to love the breaking glass. I spent hours trying to hit the referee through the glass on NHL 98. But I've changed my position. I now think plays like that one should be punished, because part of the act went against sportsmanship, against the spirit and even the rules of the game. And, I used to be as biased as Yvon Pednault about these things, but I think a non-partisan approach would be more helpful overall. Now I can see hits like Kostopoulos' and Markov's as boarding, even with the bleu, blanc rouge glasses on.

Take, for example, another case of flagrant fouling gone unpunished was Sergei Kostitsyn on Mikhail Grabovski the other night. Regardless of what Grabovski did to Price, which took quite an eye to spot even after the fact, Kostitsyn's hit was dirty. He came after the play and hit an unsuspecting player in a very dirty and unsportsmanlike way.

At the very least, Sergei was ejected from the game (a meaningless gesture at that juncture). But why has there been no suspension attached?

I'm sure the plays were reviewed. Ron Wilson probably sent a whole tape full of incidents.

I suspect the fact Grabovski got up with no grogginess had a lot to do with it.

Injuries should not come into consideration
With the ability the NHL has to review plays from multiple angles and at any speed, there is no reason to consider hits that cause injuries to be any different from those that do. Often that is luck (as Kostopoulos will tell you).

I think, if the NHL wants to see this stuff cut out, it must rule on hits where the possibility (not intent, no one will concede attempting to injure at any point, they're all such good guys like Bertuzzi) of injury. A blind hit on a player not involved in the play, for example could carry a 5-game suspension and fines. A hit like Lucic's could carry the same or more. Same for Kostopoulos'.

The NHL needs to stop pandering to the vocal minority who bawl for more hitting, fighting – and a trip back to 1974, and consider the safety of the players, what the game is about and how dangerous play comes into that.

The retort of course is where do I draw the line?

It's a tricky business drawing a line, I'll concede. It would take a bit of careful consideration. There will be gray areas. But that shouldn't necessarily slow action on the dirtiest hits, so clearly beyond the line – hits on unsuspecting opponents that have nothing to do with playing hockey or pursuing the puck.

Like drunk driving, the potentially harmful activity could be punished – even if no harm is done.

I could do without watching games that resemble a runaway car with a drunk at the wheel. I could live without dirty hockey. I even know it's possible to enjoy those types of games – they make up 90% of the ones I watch...

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