Canadiens teammates look on in the aftermath of Zdeno Chara's hit on Max Pacioretty. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
I’ve been a passionate hockey fan for as long as I can remember. I’ve played, refereed and coached. I’ve lived it. I’ve breathed it. But some pundits are testing my love.
On Tuesday, March 8, I settled in for what I anticipated would be a great game between two historical rivals whose contests rarely disappoint, Boston and Montreal. I couldn’t have foreseen that 24 hours later I would have been tired of hockey - at least for one night.
The haunting ping sound made when Max Pacioretty’s helmet hit the stanchion and the aftermath of Zdeno Chara's hit shook myself and the entire hockey world. It was shocking, sickening and scary all rolled into one.
The type of hit itself was something that happens every night, but this conclusion was absolutely disastrous. And the first thought that popped into my mind was “here we go with the ‘hockey is too violent’ debate again.”
Sure enough the fiery arguments raged. Twitter flamed, message boards were a flurry of back-and-forth vitriol and analysts from here to Timbuktu chimed in with everything they perceived was wrong with the NHL. Before Montreal left the ice with a 4-1 win this old debate was already out of control.
In reaction, some columnists diverged from the play and plucked the emotional strings by referring to Marc Savard’s injury from the Matt Cooke hit and how Savard’s still holed up in a dark room; how ludicrous it was the NHL suspended Sean Avery for an off-ice remark; and how this new black mark was akin to the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident - never mind all three are completely unrelated.
But none of this type of reaction is isolated to the Chara hit. This happens whenever there is an injury from a physical play, as if it’s realistically expected players should move through an 82-game schedule of high-tempo hockey unscathed.
In fact, the NHL, its GMs and the NHLPA are acting responsible by not giving into those who have no investment in the repercussions of change. Are constant rule overhauls going to improve the NHL’s image? Hardly.
Many seem to think they have the answer to cure all that is ill with the NHL and if you don’t agree, to hell with you. Snooty opinions belittling ‘The Code,’ cavemen, or the old-boys club are shouted in the name of being progressive after select incidents catch momentum. The idea, I guess, is that if they stay at it long enough, they’ll get their changes and be able to say “I told you so” before even seeing (or discussing) what the unintended consequences of such changes would be.
It's become a pastime for some to yell about all that is wrong with the NHL and how it refuses to change, but the only thing that’s wrong here is so few activists are actually willing to listen and budge an inch. (After all, the NHL did make sweeping changes in 2005, added a head shot rule this season, held a research and development camp for potential rule changes and has tested some in the American League, so some credit is deserved.)
Sometimes I wonder if those preaching improved safety and spewing how dangerous the NHL is actually root for injuries and sponsorship drop offs to prove a point and push a fixed agenda. They’ll be the first to tune into the next Boston-Montreal game or the return of Trevor Gillies, rubbing their palms in anticipation of what may happen, fingers ready by the keyboard.
Are there problems with the game today? The way players are going down with concussions, it’s apparent something is happening. But it’s clear to anyone willing to have a meaningful discussion that the solution also isn’t as easy as flipping a switch and adding a new rule or two. There's already people pushing to bring back the bear-hug rule and allow some form of obstruction to slow the game down; this only six years after we absolutely had to get rid of those things because they were killing hockey.
If that doesn’t prove my point, I don’t know what does. Do I have my own ideas of what would help the problem? Absolutely, but I’m also not naive enough to think injuries, head or otherwise, will ever be eliminated from a fast-paced and physical sport. And any alterations can't tear at the fabric of the game or move it backwards to the Dead-Puck Era.
Frayed and fatigued from the current “debate,” I went a route I rarely do and posted my thoughts on Facebook: “Sick and freaking tired of hearing everyone bemoan what's wrong with hockey every time someone gets injured from a physical play.”
To which I received a reply proposing one-minute penalties and other radical reforms. Sigh.
Far from the NHL turning me off the game, it’s this kind of tunnel-vision whining and proclaiming from all corners that sometimes makes me tired of being a hockey fan. In an age when social media drives debate and has the power to change policy, too many people are blinded by their own ambitions and believe their way will improve the world, if only everyone else would just shut up and listen.
Those same people will call the NHL bush, a third-rate league and an embarrassment. But what’s the real embarrassment here? If all you do is point, preach and denounce, unwilling to bend, what does that make you?
There’s being passionate and progressive - and then there’s being pig-headed and presumptuous.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.