Dion Phaneuf, known for his earth-shattering bodychecks, laid another controversial one on the Islanders' Kyle Okposo in the pre-season. (Getty Images)
Who says pre-season games are meaningless? We’ve already had 40 fights in 20 friendlies – the vast majority of which are those staged bouts between two lunkheads whose next NHL game will require them to purchase a ticket – and one guy sent to the hospital with a head shot.
Yup, everything new is old-time hockey again.
The fights will always be there as long as the hockey establishment continues to dupe fans into thinking these dancing bear acts are actually an essential part of the game and as long as there are dancing bears willing to perform them.
Those will be there until someone’s career or life is ended and even then we’re not so sure that will be enough to make it stop. But for heaven’s sake, the NHL has to have the power to do something about the kinds of hits such as the one Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames laid on Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders Thursday night.
The league can’t even agree on what constitutes a head shot and is wary to impose a blanket penalty for them. And they have a point. Last year during the Stanley Cup final in a conversation with Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, he pointed out that if the league were to have an across-the-board head shot rule, players would take advantage of it by skating through the neutral zone with their heads down. And he’s probably right.
But it should be a no-brainer when it comes to the kinds of flagrant attempts to injure that players such as Phaneuf have made their stock-in-trade. On the Okposo hit, you can clearly see Phaneuf lining him up and setting Okposo in his sites. By the time he makes contact with Okposo, his back is almost fully facing Okposo and if Phaneuf didn’t leave his feet before making the hit, he had certainly left his feet by the time contact was completed.
Phaneuf and the Flames said all the right things about how you never want to see a guy carried off the ice on a stretcher, but you know, that’s hockey and you can’t pass up a hit like that one. And they’re right, too, because according to the rules and culture of the game, it was a perfectly legal hit.
But it shouldn’t be. It was a clear case of malicious intent, or at least extreme recklessness, on Phaneuf’s part. Anyone who saw that hit could tell Okposo wasn’t trying to create the circumstances under which a head shot penalty would be called. And for the league to continue to allow hits such as those to go unpenalized is just plain dumb.
LUONGO DEAL ALSO UNDER INVESTIGATION
THN.com has learned that, along with the contracts of Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers, Roberto Luongo’s long-term contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks is under investigation to determine whether or not it circumvents the collective bargaining agreement.
The Hossa, Pronger and Luongo contracts are the only ones under investigation, but nothing has been determined on any of them yet.
All three deals were frontloaded and would provide the team with salary cap relief in the form of a lower cap hit and, in the case of Hossa and Luongo, no cap hit at all if they retire in the latter years of the deals.
Hossa’s 12-year deal with the Blackhawks will pay him a total of $62.8 million, but just a combined $3.5 million in the final four years. Luongo’s deal pays him $64 million over the 12 years, but just a total of $3.618 million in the final three years. Pronger’s seven-year extension is worth $34.5 million, but he gets just $525,000 per season in the final two years.
If it’s found the deals contravene the CBA, the teams face the prospect of being fined up to $5 million and losing draft picks.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.