R.J. Umberger of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his game-winning overtime goal against the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Difficult as it may be for some (and my own ego) to believe, I don’t have all the answers. But I do have a whack-load of questions – and some attempts at answers. Here are but a few:
1. Would pro hockey be better served if the two key leaders involved in the NHL – commissioner Gary Bettman and Players’ Association executive director Paul Kelly – swapped jobs?
Judging by a couple of their comments this week, the answer is yes.
In a speech to Toronto business types, Bettman leaned on the oldest trick in the book – blaming the media – rather than exhibiting true leadership to deal with the NHL’s more pressing issues.
The lowlight – or the highlight, if you’re into uncontrollable belly laughs – came when the commissioner had the audacity to make the following statement:
“To assert, as some have, that there's a culture of violence, is inappropriate and utterly inaccurate.”
Hear that, Steve Moore? Are we clear, any player who throws a clean check and is immediately met with at least a hockey glove face-wash and at most a thorough beating about the face and head area? Crystal clear, Colin “The NHL sells hate” Campbell? Good.
Now, contrast Bettman’s wonderful world of make-believe with the brave admissions made Wednesday by Kelly.
The NHLPA boss told Toronto reporters the union would consider a rule banning players from doffing their helmets during fights.
“If it's true that when guys get hurled to the ice or tripped to the ice and bang their skull on the ice is where the real danger comes from,” Kelly said, “then maybe we can protect against that. It's certainly something worth looking at.”
Kelly went on to question the logic behind and usefulness of dancing bear acts otherwise known as pre-orchestrated, utterly phony fights between professional pugilists.
"If it's a staged fight between two super-heavyweights that perhaps arranged it a day before the game, I'm not so sure those are the fights that we need to continue to have in the sport,” Kelly said. “If they're the most dangerous fights, we ought to take a good, hard look at those.”
Seems to me one of the two leaders is taking pro-active steps to head off future black marks on the game, while his counterpart has his head in the sand at the same time he takes aim at the canaries in the coal mine.
Seems to me the players would win the PR war once and for all if they took one for the team and accepted a Bettman-for-Kelly trade. I’m sure certain elements within the board of governors hierarchy would even throw in a “needless suspension of Nicklas Lidstrom to be named later” to sweeten the pot and make the deal happen.
2. Did Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock offer advice to me this week on wearing a civil war uniform?
Indeed he did.
“You’ve got to make sure you wear all wool to recreate the effect,” Hitchcock, a longtime civil war buff, said Monday. “It’s hot and it’s heavy under all that stuff, and it’s really uncomfortable. Good luck with that.”
Same to you and the Jackets’ hunt for a playoff berth, Hitch.
3. Should NHLers and their families be troubled by the latest information on the long-term effects concussions could have on athletes?
Without a doubt. Virtually every concussion-themed revelation that comes out of the scientific community is worrisome at best and outright alarming at worst.
Researchers would be the first to tell you they have no firm conclusions about the connection between head injuries and cognitive deficiencies in later life.
However, I’ve yet to see any study that claims the contrary – which is why it’s safe to assume that, with every passing year, players will grow more and more conscious and concerned for not only their own health, but also the well-being of their teammates and friends.
4. Is super-prospect John Tavares the spitting image of Hall of Fame legend Elmer Lach?
Check out this picture of Lach (in the center of the trio) from THN’s Century Of Montreal Canadiens special edition magazine and tell me he’s not.
Uncanny, I say. It reminds me of that spooky old photo at the end of The Shining.
5. Would I leave myself open to predictable juvenile insults if I finished off this column by telling hockey fans how much I enjoyed the fascinating PBS documentary on the astounding migration pattern of the monarch butterfly?
Very much so.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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