Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 2012:

And, We Still Have Hits From Behind...

Amazingly, the answer is not icing. Though I'm sure a certain broken record and the GMs who apply bandaid solutions twice in any given season wish it were.

Yesterday, Tyler Myers was suspended for 3 games following a blatant hit from behind on Scott Gomez, late in Monday's contest.

This was a good step. But as one example, it also helps to explain why players like Tyler Myers even make these hits in the first place.

Myers, you see was rightly suspended, but inadequately punished during the game itself. The team that suffered the foul was not properly compensated for the dirty play, instead the Sabres next three opponents and playoff rivals will be. His punishment, in case you missed it, was two minutes for boarding. To those of you who missed the beginning of the season and the "crackdown" on dirty hits, this hit would have been punished more harshly back then.

My issue with this is the simple fact that the over-the-top nature of the hit was apparent right from the start. The announcers caught it before the replay, the players all kind of stopped for a moment. Why then did the referees, supposedly trained in the ways and rules of hockey miss assigning the same penalty that was assigned earlier in the season? Why did they make a hit that was a clear suspendable offense (3 more games than the unblemished record of Chara shows) the equivalent of a puck over the glass (or a split second of Pacioretty stick around a waist?

Shanahan was in Florida touting his first year in charge of the discipline ship. Apparently, he showed some statistical analysis of penalty calls and video evidence to show how his "crackdown" has paid dividends.

It's a sham.

If the data is penalties, it gets skewed by this very practice. Want less evidence of dirty hits in the penalty records? Tell them to call less penalties. The Myers hit might have been an example of this were it not for the suspension correcting the error made in the game. To pretend that the league corrects all the legitimate calls it misses in this way would be foolhardy thinking indeed.

It's all smoke and mirrors with the NHL.

Shanahan and his videos, data based on penalized hits (not data on illegal hits penalized or not), twisted messaging on concussion data:
"The league also reported that man-games lost to concussions is up significantly, but the number of concussions are roughly the same as last season.

The number of concussions caused by accidental collisions and fights were down and those caused by legal and illegal hits are up."
Why bother mentioning the other data in the same breath. If the number of concussions from illegal hits are up0, they are up. It matters little that accidental collisions have come down to even out the record in Shanahan's favour. And showing videos of guys stepping out of the way in isolated cases is a nonsense that only serves to distract.

There are more concussions despite the "crackdown"? This should be seen as nothing but an epic failure. Rather than tooting it's own little horn, the NHL should be asking why their methods have failed to produce results that are good enough, indeed, any results at all.

I have a theory on the matter, and it relates very much to the case of Tyler Myers: the consequences for the hits that cause injury are simply too light. What's more they are getting lighter.

Sure, Myers has 3 games to sit, and it may cost the Sabres. But in the game where he could and should have been punished right away, he cost his team 15 seconds of PK and ended up scoring the winning goal. The suspension is apt, but there's no reason to have allowed a GWG in the interim of hit and punishment complete.

At the beginning of the "crackdown", Myers would have been sent to the dressing room. We all know that the rules change over a season as the NHL systematically moves into playoff mode. Sure they kept their numbers up this year with early penalty calls, but the end of season is still the dangerous hitting ground because of the loose refereeing.

So the NHL has to face two facts:

1) Players and teams don't really care enough about 3 game suspensions, 2 minute penalties and $2,500 fines to stop and think the way Shanahan's cherry-picked videos purport they do

2) The NHL's continued insistence on a season of two rulebooks lends itself to plenty of experimetation by the players in the game.

Until the league sets some firm rules with punishments that sting teams (stress teams, because individual players will only care if their teams make them care) and apply those rules consistently through the entire length of a season, these embarrassing problems will survive.

Right now, the league is that lazy patient who takes half his course of antibiotics only to complain to his doctor time after time about the troubles with resistant strains being encountered. Owning up to its own negligence is the only way out of this problem for the NHL.

Less face-saving video displays, more doses Mr. Shanahan. You won't get to what's ailing without a more concerted effort.

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