Blackhawks head athletic trainer Mike Gapski checks on Brian Campbell after he was shoved into the boards by Washington's Alex Ovechkin Sunday. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
He’s had more game misconducts than any other NHLer this season, two for boarding and once for kneeing. He was criticized for his treatment of a fan with a camera at the Olympics. He’s been suspended once already this season and is looking at the possibility of another. Oh, he’s also the league’s scoring leader and the world’s most exciting player.
He’s Alex Ovechkin.
Friday I was a guest on the THN Radio Show on XM-Radio with Adam Proteau and Scott Laughlin. We discussed what every hockey observer is discussing these days: Matt Cooke, blindside hits and reckless, predatory play. I made an off-hand remark about what happens when Ovie does something similar.
Well, we don’t have to wait too long to find out. After a boarding incident Sunday, that sent Brian Campbell hurtling head-first into the end boards, the Hawk is hurt and reportedly facing a lost season. Ovie is a multiple offender with a penchant for reckless physical play. What to do?
If Cooke did the same thing Sunday, he’d likely get a 10-game ban – after all, while there may not be a rule for hits to the head, there certainly is for hitting from behind. And it’d be as much some comeuppance for the hit on Marc Savard as anything.
Now, I’m not saying Ovie is as bad as Cooke, but if No. 8 is hit with a suspension, it’ll be his second of the season, one more than Cooke. It’ll also be the second of Ovie’s career. That’s one behind Cooke, but Cooke is in his 11th NHL season, Ovie is in his fifth.
Despite their very dissimilar stat sheets, those are pretty similar rap sheets.
The NHL is facing a PR nightmare here. The February blahs have turned into March madness. The Olympic hangover and the goodwill the Games garnered are behind us and 12 of the 16 playoff spots are all but sewn up with three-plus weeks to play in the season – heck Ovie’s Capitals have already clinched their division.
Now one of the league’s brightest stars has again run afoul of the rulebook; the NHL is being barraged by criticism for not suspending Cooke after his blindside hit on Marc Savard and for its inability to legislate such hits out of the game in anything even close to a timely fashion. There’s no end in sight.
With little else to focus their attention on, NHL fans and pundits alike are pressuring the league to stand up and address safety issues on the ice. And the league is wilting under that pressure.
We’ll hopefully find out soon what the decision is on Ovechkin. I, for one, think he deserves a suspension in the area of five games, but am not expecting any supplemental action.
Ovie is just too reckless out there. And seven games lost to suspension this season may just be enough to lose him the Art Ross and Rocket Richard races, which would also be a form of punishment. Although, in Ovie’s case, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he still managed to capture the scoring and goal scoring titles.
I don’t want to see one of the game’s greats miss any time. But the NHL must show some backbone here. It can’t be seen as weak for the second time in two weeks when one of its stars goes down to an injury caused by a dangerous play, or as favoring its stars over its grunts.
The league must beware the Ides of March.
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