Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The hits keep coming

The dark cloud hanging over the NHL these days is when Sidney Crosby will return to playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It's looking less likely that he will be suiting up for the start of the 2011-12 season.

This concern is caused by the lack of updates on the health status of Crosby who last played hockey on January 5, 2011 and still suffers from concussion symptoms. Although he is working out, the fact that he has not been cleared for contact further fuels speculation that he will not be playing hockey when the new season begins. In fact some people speculate that Penguins management knows whether he will be ready for the start of the season but is intentionally being evasive.

So with no timetable for a return of the planet's best hockey player, you would think the NHL was in full panic mode. The league stars would be the priority. Head hits would be eliminated from the game. Head hunters would be banished from the league. Except that doesn't seem to be happening. Players are still just as reckless. GMs and coaches spend more energy protecting 3rd and 4th liners than their star players. Enforcement of rules and punishment of offenders continue to be weak and inconsistent.

Here is a look at some plays since the hit that knocked Crosby out of the lineup.

During a game between Boston and Dallas on February 3, 2011, Raymond Sawada leads the rush into the Boston zone and loses control of the puck just as Daniel Paille arrives. Paille drives his shoulder into his head resulting in a game misconduct. Sawada suffers a broken nose and separated shoulder. The NHL suspends Paille for 4 games.

Next is the well documented hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara on Montreal's Max Pacioretty on March 8, 2011. Pacioretty chips the puck through the neutral zone and Chara moves in to rub Pacioretty into the boards. As they both race for the puck Chara gives Pacioretty an extra shove that sends his head into one of the lightly padded stanchions at the end of the bench. Chara receives a major penalty and a game misconduct. Pacioretty receives a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra in his neck. There is no further discipline from the NHL which declares the incident a "hockey play." The subsequent debate which draws in Don Cherry is about padded stanchions rather than reigning in violent plays.

During a game on March 15, 2011 between Boston and Columbus, R.J. Umberger goes after a loose puck in the neutral zone. Brad Marchand comes in from behind and drives his elbow into the back of Umberger's head. As he skates away he kicks away the stick of the injured player. There is no penalty on the play and Umberger is not seriously injured. The NHL reviews the play and suspends Marchand for 2 games.

Next is a game between Vancouver and Edmonton on April 5, 2011. The puck carooms off the boards in the Canuck's end and Jordan Eberle is there waiting for it. Raffi Torres charges into his end and skates right by the puck to plant his arm into the side of Eberle's head. Torres receives a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct. Eberle is not seriously injured but the NHL hands Torres a 4 game suspension. Canuck GM Mike Gillis comments that he thought it was a "hockey play," which appears to be the new euphemism for a legal hit.

It's Raffi Torres again in a playoff game on April 17, 2011 against Chicago. In his first game back after serving his 4-game suspension, Torres levels Brent Seabrook who is not in possession of the puck but is merely looking down trying to find the puck. Torres receives a interference penalty. Seabrook misses the rest of the game as well as 2 of the 3 next games. There is no suspension. No doubt the NHL considers it to be a "hockey play." Colin Campbell takes exception to criticism regarding the league decision.

In another playoff game between Montreal and Boston on April 26, 2011, Jaroslav Spacek plays the puck along the boards with his back to the ice. Milan Lucic rams him into the boards face first and Lucic raises his arms in disgust when a penalty is called. He received a major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct. There was no subsequent suspension.

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