I think, generally, we can all agree it would be a good thing for the NHL to ratchet up the length of suspensions it hands out to better curb the egregious infractions no one wants in any hockey game.
But longer suspensions and more suspensions don’t have the same effect. Supplemental discipline is designed to dissuade the worst of the worst, the over-the-top and the completely uncalled-for. What it is not designed for is to take a player out of the lineup for every injury, minor indiscretion or accident.
It’s been said many times over, but the reality of the situation still seems to be lost on the most touchy human psyches out there: if you play hockey, you will get hurt at some point. The law of averages is something we all live with everyday and it doesn’t suddenly stop applying to this particular sport. If you put on two sharpened steel blades, a suit of padded armor, wield a chunk of lumber and fly around a fixed surface chasing a slab of rubber with nine others at break-neck speed, you will get hurt eventually.
And when you do it doesn’t automatically mean someone else should sit down for a game or more. It means, to reluctantly tone it down a little, crap happens. You take the risk, so deal with the consequences when they arise. If you didn’t realize freak injury is an inherent risk in this sport, welcome to reality – the air is cleaner over here.
I understand the desire for retribution and justice when a wrong has been committed. If you ram your elbow into a guy’s head after skating across the ice non-stop, you better believe you’re getting a suspension after what should be a five-minute penalty. If you take a baseball swing at an opposing player you shouldn’t be on the ice for the next game and many more. Everyone wants to stop that nonsense.
But if you rub a guy into the boards and he falls awkwardly, you don’t deserve to be punished and conditioned to not make that play again.
It’s embarrassing the amount of times coaches, players, fans and media alike call for supplemental discipline and then are “offended” and claim the game is dying when the most mild of errors goes, rightfully, unpunished. We all want longer suspensions when something bad does happen, but by going overboard with our expectations on what actions should be called to the carpet, we’re setting the bar unrealistically high and losing focus. The league should not suspend a player after each and every on-ice injury.
If you start doing that, you’re eroding the effect suspensions are supposed to have.
The latest boondoggle is the Johnny Boychuk-Mason Raymond hit. Suspension? This play happens all the time. I suppose Boychuk should just let one of Vancouver’s scorers go to the front of the net during a do-or-die game in the Stanley Cup final. We don’t, after all, want the best hockey players in the world to play any more aggressive than 300-pound John Doe in the Northern Ontario beer league who has to go to work tomorrow.
Ummm. Actually, I do. This is professional hockey at its best, correct?
There is no possible way Boychuk could have calculated the type of freak injury Raymond sustained on the play. And if Boychuk didn’t keep Raymond to the boards, he would have been ridiculed if he went around him untouched and put the puck in the net. Any notion it was intentional or unnecessary is severely misguided and/or skewed by team allegiances. Interference penalty? Perhaps. But it ends after two minutes.
Not every penalty call, missed call or injury means a suspension is on the way. If you suspend someone whenever a player gets hurt, you’re bunching freak occurrences in with the illegal episodes we want to abolish and, as a result, you’re taking away the power to dissuade. Sometimes a penalty is enough and if it’s missed on the ice, tough cheese.
I get the feeling a lot of folks need to take a breath and realize the obvious: there are inherent dangers on the ice. And when one of those accidents shows its face – and this might sound cliche, but it’s the reality – it’s simply part of this wild, beautiful game.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears regularly only on THN.com.
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