Friday, March 19, 2010

All Things Hockey, March 19th, 2010

It would be great if we could just talk about hockey.

Believe me, I would like nothing more, but the last few weeks have seen so much…crap, so much controversy, so many bad hits and so little NHL action, that they really are the only place I can start this NHL column.

I hate to even mention it, but the fact is, the past month has seen both the best and the worst that the great game of hockey has to offer. The best was simple, the greatest players in the world got together and put on a show for the ages in Vancouver. It was not only as good as hockey can be, but I would say as good as sports are capable of being.

Unfortunately, each of the two Sundays since the Gold Medal tilt, the headlines, blogosphere and airwaves have been dominated with the dark side of the game. Last week, it was Matt Cooke’s attempted decapitation of Marc Savard, and the league’s embarrassing inability to send an effective message. This week, it was a star player, Alex Ovechkin, who served as the guilty party.

The fact is, I can think of few things that I want to do less than break down a hit and the warranted penalty for the second times in as many NHL columns. Suffice to say, I think the 2 games were fair, although I can see the side that Ovechkin/Budreau took in saying that Campbell may have been at fault. If you compare it to the Cooke hit, which didn’t get one second or dollar in penalties, it was positively saint like.

It points to a larger problem, though. Allow me to be the 500th voice (at least) to say that the league needs to sort out it’s disciplinary system. I understand that it is difficult to do anything in season, and that’s fine. It needs to be priority number one this summer though. In no particular order, here are the things that I think need to be considered:

- Implement my hitting from behind rule, which was that if you make an aggressive, physical play on a player from behind, regardless of the result, it is a 5 minute player. The league can then decide on supplemental discipline from there.

- Suspensions can be judged on a case by case basis. Everything is fair game for review, and the league, be it Campbell, a panel or something else, can decide if suspension is necessary.

- Obviously, the perpetrator can be taken into account on a play like this. Some would say that this would work against both Ovechkin and Cooke, although I would have to disagree with that. Ovechkin has been reckless, sure, but he has never really ran anyone from behind, lending credence to an argument that he was just strong and aggressive in finishing the play on Campbell, not trying to hurt him. Cooke, on the other hand, was trying to take Savard’s head off. That is that. I kind-of-sort-of-maybe-a-little defended him last week, but like so many hockey arguments, Don Cherry put this one to bed. If you haven’t already, watch Coach’s corner for March 13th. He shows a montage that leave no doubt in your mind about Cooke. I am so far out on a tangent here, I can’t even see Sin or Cosine (a geometry joke!), but this is all to say that Cooke’s hit was deserving of three times the suspension Ovechkin’s was, and I have always been vehemently anti-hitting from behind. The relevance being…I forgot…oh yeah, who should matter.

- Having just compared the two,

- Most importantly, everyone needs to know what is being considered for suspensions. It doesn’t need to be airtight, after all it is a human process, and there can be plenty of room for interpretation, but there does need to be some sort of criteria for what you look at. What? I’m glad you asked. The following things should be considered and if they apply, a suspension is warranted.

1. An egregious violation of a rule- Essentially, a bad penalty. Suspensions are essentially given for committing a penalty, really badly. If you slash someone, that is a penalty. If you slash someone in the face, that is a suspendable offense. If you board someone: penalty. Board someone badly enough: suspension. This is the first thing that should be looked at. (Example- Most stick violations, particularly McSorely on Brashears, or Simon on Hollweg…minor penalties taken out of control, warranting further action.)

2. Was there an attempt to injure- If there was, it should be at least one game, probably more. (Example: Cooke on Savard)

3. Was it a play that could be made in the context of a hockey game- Suspensions should be more common, and more severe if the guilty party’s actions had little or nothing to do with the game. (Example: Downie on Crosby…away from the puck and having nothing to do with the rest of the game)

4. Was the play overly reckless- A play doesn’t have to be overtly malicious to warrant taking a player out. If you do something that puts players at risk just by being out of control and showing an utter lack of restraint (especially against players in helpless situation), that can be just as worthy of curtailing action. (Example- All of Ovechkin’s offenses)

5. Situation- Third period of a blowout and you go after someone’s knees? A much more egregious play. Essentially, by looking at when the play occurs, you can get a better feel for the players intentions. (Example- Lapierre cross checked Nichol in the second period of a close game. Clearly he wasn’t just out to goon someone at that point. Had he been, the suspension should have been steeper.)

6. Multiple Infractions- If a hit manages to break multiple rules at the same time, it should probably be considered for supplemental discipline. (Example- Keep reading…)

7. The Player- This is the trickiest part. The player should be considered. They shouldn’t need to make an example of stars, nor should they let them off. I don’t think that consideration of the player should be limited to repeat offender or not though. If a player is in fact a repeat offender, and has been sanctioned before, obviously that should make the penalty harsher. If a player has partaken in a number of boarderline hits, or has a well known reputation as a dirty player, that can indeed be taken into account. These decisions are made by people, not any sort of algorithm, and that should be taken advantage of.

There are probably a couple of other things that you could add to the list, but that is a pretty good basis for what he league could take a look at. Not on the list, crucially, in my opinion, is the result of the play. The result of the play warrants penalty, but if you are going to take a player off the ice for multiple game, what is important is what the player does. So many circumstances go into the level of injury that occurs on a play, that it isn’t fair to make it criteria for suspension. As hard as it may be to separate from the player’s action, it is only fair to try.

Cheapshot of the Week?

Another day another couple of hits to talk about. God I am getting sick of this, but this one needs to be addressed.

Wisniewski’s assault of Brent Seabrook was probably the worst hit that I have seen yet. Malicious, he broke about 4 rules, and he tried to take his head off. It was a joke…an absolute joke, that Devorski didn’t throw him out of the game. He came from the blueline, with his hands up, leaves his feet and slams Seabrook’s head into the boards and gets 2 minutes? Are you kidding me? It was revenge for Seabrook’s (legal) hit on Perry, and was the clearest instance of intent to injure, bar none, that I have seen since the Bertuzzi punch. God help the NHL if these things don’t start ending up in suspensions soon. You know what would be nice? If we knew how it was going to be evaluated, so we could be sure he would be punished. Someone should come up with something like that.

I started this out as a shorter thought, but I am getting fired up here, as I watch it again, and as much as more bad hits are the last thing that I feel like talking about, I need to get into this one. Watch the video. I can’t possibly stress how dangerous, malicious and dirty this is.

First, the Perry hit, which big bad James was retaliating against. Seabrook did essentially what everyone wishes that Cooke had done to Savard. He had a chance to hit Perry from behind, but he waited, hit him shoulder to shoulder just after he played the puck, and made a good hard hit. Yes, I once joked that you should get half a goal rather than a penalty for attacking Cory Perry (wait, no I didn’t, what is the opposite of joking?), but even under these rules, Seabrook wouldn’t have gotten anything for the hit. Sure, Perry went in hard, but it is hockey, and Seabrook did nothing wrong.

Then there is the Wisniewski hit. I don’t know where to start. Ok, go back to the video, and set it at the 16 second mark, 2 seconds before the hit at :18. Find Wisniewski in the frame, which goes out to the top of the circles. He isn’t even in it yet. Now watch him fly in. He already has speed when he enters the frame at the top of the circles, and he does 2 crossovers to gain speed between there and the hit. That alone makes it one of the worst charges that I have ever seen.

Moving to phase two of Wisniewski’s grand slam of douchebagery, when he makes contact, Seabrook has yet to make contact with the puck. Plain and simple, that makes it an early hit, and susceptible to a 5 minute interference call. A major seems odd for interference, but read any recap of the Kronwall hit on Martin Havlat in the playoffs last year. This is the same play. Seabrook played the puck a good second and a half earlier, but as Wisniewski comes in and attacks him, the puck is being wrapped hard behind him.

The triple leg of the goonery comes in the form of intent to injure. Clearly this is retaliation for the Perry hit. It has nothing to do with the play, as Wisniewski is ignoring said play to get a run at Seabrook. All he is trying to do is get his revenge in the form of taking Seabrook out, the very definition of intent to injure.

Moving to the next step, we have (spinning the wheel of cheapshots)….boarding! Wizniewski runs Seabrook into the boards from about 2-3 feet, basically the definition of the call. Moving on.
Number 5 (grand slam may actually have been generous), is roughing. The easiest way to get a roughing penalty is to stick your hands to an opponent’s face when you hit him. Coaches teach from a young age that if the ref sees you put your hands up, you are probably ending up in the box. Wisniewski flies in with his hands up, driving them right into Seabrook’s chin.

The sixth offense is the problem de jour with the NHL right now, an attack to the head. In fact, this was the result of the play, as Seabrook left the game with what was called an “upper body injury.” I’m not a doctor, but judging by his dazed look and the way he went down, I’m giving it between a 100% and 100% chance that it was a concussion. I would actually like to thank Wisniewski here. He heard people (such as myself) saying that it was the blind side head hits that were dangerous. He wanted everyone to know that you can goon someone in the head in an egregious manner from the front. Point well taken. Thank you, James.

Number seven (I honestly don’t know how high I will go, I am just going to keep typing until I run out of problems to point out with the hit), was the high stick. Watch the play, the stick is the first thing to make contact with Seabrook. I know that poor James didn’t mean to high stick him, he was just trying to turn his head into a pancake against the glass, but hey, you are responsible for your own stick.

Moving on to the eighth problem I have with the hit, he left his feet. Attention Ovechkin haterade drinkers (sorry, I have been listening to John Calipari), this is what it looks like to illegally hit someone by leaving your feet. Wisniewski jumps before he gets to the player he is hitting. Has Ovie done this, yes. Does he ‘every time’ as some have asserted? No. Wisniewski does, and it is dirty.

Going for nine…screw it, you get the point, I am so sick of talking about cheapshots.

(But I’m not done…and the Ducks’ announcer said he was selling it! HE SAID HE WAS SELLING IT WHEN HE GOT ASSULTED BY WISNIEWSKI! EFFING SELLING IT! MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. Good, I needed another reason the hate the Ducks. Wait, no I didn’t, I had this and this and this and this and this. God, I hate the Ducks. I need to see Cory Perry looking devastated after being beat by Ryan Kessler again to settle down. There we go.)

(Nope, still not done. He also said it was a hit to the head of Perry. No it wasn’t. It was a clean hit, shoulder to shoulder. The game has real headshots, like the one a few seconds later, that we need to get rid of. Don’t f*** it up for the rest of us by suggesting that reasonable hits are headshots and belittling the case that they need to go. I don’t like to resort to name calling, but this guy deserved it. Moron. You too, Wizniewsky. Douche. A more minor name calling, too, to Paul Divorski, and this one is going to be old school. You, sir, are yellow. That’s right, yellow, for not making a stronger call.)

Homer note of the week:

In the words of the trainer with the funny accent from Miracle, “This has gone on long enough.”

After the New Jersey game, it appeared that Nabokov had started to regain his form, putting up solid efforts against Columbus and Montreal. Since then though, (also since I posted that the Sharks had goaltending issues) he has been absolute GARBAGE. A sieve. I have always liked Nabby. I have always enjoyed the fact that he wasn’t technical, but got hot by being one of the best athletes in the league, and certainly the most aggressive goalie in the National Hockey League. He is finished.

I haven’t looked up his nunbers since that game. I don’t want to, and I don’t need to. I watched the games. He has been a soft goal machine. Nothing kills a team like a bad goal. It swings more games than anything else in hockey, since it changes the scoreboard, obviously, but it also kills any confidence and momentum that a team had. Since the Olympic break, the Sharks have been a little bit mediocre, and have had to come from behind in the games that they have won. That is why. I have seen Nabokov give up goals on more unscreened shots from outside of the slot than I ever thought I would. It has been utterly ridiculous.

You have to believe me, it pains me to tear down Nabby like this. I really want to see him get it back. Sure, the main reason is that the Sharks probably aren’t getting a cup with Tyson Sexsmith or Thomas Greiss, and trading for Jaroslav Halak is no longer an option. That isn’t the only reason though. I like watching Nabby make sprawling kick saves. I like watching him literally skate through screans to stop a shot from the point at the hash marks. I like that he talks a little bit like Borat. I even like that you never know if you are going to see an unbelievable shutout on a good night or 2 soft goals on a bad one. I really, really like that when he is on, I would take him over Luongo, Miller, or anyone else. The problem is that there have been a lot of the bad nights, and the bad nights have consisted of more than 2 soft goals.

I hope he gets it back, I really do. But the fact is, there is definitely something lost that needs to be gotten back, and it needs to be before the playoffs.

Pass of the Week

It is the New York Islanders rookie, Johnathan Tavares, who gets the nod in the first singular week award (exams man…lots of time). This is a beauty, no look pass that may have been a shot. Either way, it was a great look for an assist. Enjoy.

Goal of the Week

Did he fan a bit? Yes. Was it a fairly soft goal? One could argue that. Was Joe Pavelski’s spin-a-rama the goal of the week? Absolutely.

(Damn, I conduct a hard hitting interview on myself)

Save of the Week

Flower takes it home this week, with a phenomenal sprawling paddle save on Brad Richards.

Hit of the Week

I have made it clear that I love Ovechkin, love the way he plays, and don’t think that he is a dirty player. Having said that, let’s throw the haters a bone this week and give the hit of the week to Patrick Kaleta, if for nothing else than laying out a player that has 4 inches and 40 pounds on him.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- What an absolutely incredible third period in the game between the Sharks and Predators. It was a relatively slow 4-2 game with the Predators in the lead heading into the final frame, and according to Pavelski after the game, McLellan let the boys know that what they had given was an unacceptable effort. Quick Manny Malhotra and Dany Heatley goals made the final 15 minutes much more interesting. It would be Joe Pavelski that would put the Sharks ahead, taking a turnover and putting it shelf on Rinne. Shortly thereafter, the Predators tied it at 5, in what would only serve as a warm up to the scoring. Pavelski put the Sharks right back up, chasing Rinne with the Sharks 4th goal of the period. It was an early contender for goal of the weeks, with Pavelski spinning off of Ryan Suter, and firing a backhand off the tail end of the spin, through Rinne’s five hole. Patrick Marleau then sniped Dan Ellis off of a 2-1, putting the Sharks up 7-5. It was all capped off, when Jay Leach fired one into the empty net from the far blueline for his first NHL goal, the Sharks 6th of the period. The end result was NHL history, with the Sharks becoming the first team to win 3 in a row, while trailing after 2 in all three.

The only negative for the Sharks (Nabokov wasn’t great, but the 5 are fairly excusable on the 45 shots), was that after the game, Dany Heatly said “I scored 2 freakin goals and I was only the third star, so yeah, you know, I’m a little pissed off right now.”

- Washington, the federal government that is, not the Capitals, may step in to save the playoffs for DirecTV. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Federal Communications Commission is launching a probe into how they can protect consumers when disputes between providers and channels that can keep the channels off the air. This is particularly pertinent to hockey fans who have direct TV for its HD center ice package, which is not available on cable, but do not receive Versus with the satellite provider.

- Just an unbelievable choke job by the Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. Credit to the Flyers for playing for the whistle and getting two in the last 2:06 to win, but that was a classic choke job by the ‘Hawks. All 5 guys thought that they were headed to OT and quit on the play before the Pronger goal. It is worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet though.

- Gary Betteman said on his radio show (yeah, he has a radio show), that they do everything possible to get West coast teams on the Sunday NBC game by showing them at eastern teams (the time slot is at 12:30 ET, so they can’t play in the western time zones). This week, the game was Washington at Chicago, an eastern time zone team playing in the central zone. It is a good matchup, but makes Betteman look (accurately) to be full of crap.

- I don’t mean to sound…mean, but I just can’t watch sled hockey (the Paralympics were being pimped this week by USA Hockey). I saw 2 minutes of a game, and it just made me sad. Sorry.

- In a week where Ovechkin got all of the attention for hurting Brian Campbell, Steve Downie (the little rat) got away with trying to shed the knee of the best player in the NHL. The excuse being made for Ovechkin and Cooke is that they were making ‘hockey plays,’ although in both cases it is debatable. There is absolutely no way that you could argue that Downie’s play was anything other than an attempt to remove Sidney Crosby’s ACL, and he should have been suspended for it. Downie is a little punk that tries to fight (and gets speed-bagged) every time that he gets hit (like against Ovechkin, clearly has issues controlling his emotions and made an inexcusable attempt to hurt someone else.

- Good job by the NHL,opening the door for supplemental discipline on blind side hits immediately. It would be difficult to instantaneously implement a penalty, but to at least have the threat of suspension looming should detour some unnecessary hits.

- I said last week that I was going to look at an under 25 ranking. I started, but it is way more labor intensive than I have time for at the minute. I started it, and I will try to get it done, but it is more of an offseason undertaking.

TOP 8 / Bottom Eight

On the Up

8. Buffalo Sabers – Ryan Miller.

7. Vancouver Canucks – Roberto Luongo.

6. Winnipeg Jets – Dave Tippet.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins – Sidney Crosby.

4. New Jersey Devils- Ilya Kovalchuck

3. San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton

2. Chicago Blackhawks – Kane and Teows

1. Washington Capitals - Guess who.

On the Down

23. Anaheim Ducks- Take that James Wisniewski

24. Tampa Bay Lightning- A couple of years away

25. Florida Panthers- Missing Jay like NBC at 10:30

26. New York Islanders- Tavares has struggled as of late.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets- Not even inspiring enough to explain why they are uninspiring.

28. Carolina Hurricanes- Looked like they were making a run, but they gave up too much at the deadline.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs- Showing signs of life, but still the worst roster in the league.

30. Edmonton Oilers- A mistake not to have them in the cellar last week. They are terrible without Hemsky.

That’s all I have the legs for today. I’ll do awards next week. And hopefully talk about actual hockey.

1 comment:

Andrew Wolinski said...

Love it Jack... good work... I love how after Seabrooke gets hit, Toews is in his face so fast