Well, there seems to be no shortage of outrage that Scott Stevens is being seriously considered for a post with the NHL’s department of player safety. That has something to do with the fact that if the department of player safety existed and had its current mandate when Stevens played, he would have been called on the carpet so often he probably would have had his own parking spot.
But to suggest Stevens played outside the rules is absurd. In fact, he played entirely inside the rules. The fact that the NHL’s rules, or lack of them, allowed players to take runs from the other end of the ice, lift their feet and drill their elbows into their opponents’ skulls when applying open-ice hits was not Stevens’ fault. The fact is Stevens was not a dirty player at all, he was a devastating open-ice hitter. He played 1,635 games and was suspended only twice for a total of four games. And of his 2,785 career penalty minutes, only eight of them were for elbowing penalties. Never once was Stevens suspended for one of his hits.
The league has its share of rambunctious players deciding now whether or not the guys on the ice will be suspended. The guy who runs the department, Stephane Quintal, was certainly no shrinking violet, with more than 1,300 penalty minutes. Chris Pronger was suspended eight times during his career and was one of the dirtiest players of all-time. And take a look who has run that department in recent years – Brian Burke, Colin Campbell and Brendan Shanahan – none of whom you’d like to meet in a corner.
But the department has also employed Brian Leetch, a skilled defenseman whose highest PIM total for a season was 67. And a big part of the decision making group includes Patrick Burke and Damian Echevarrieta, who have never played a shift at the pro level. It also includes hockey operations people Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy and Kris King, all former players.
So, yeah, if Stevens is added to that group it is a little top-heavy with guys who played a physical game. And there’s certainly nothing terribly wrong with that, but wouldn’t you for once like to see a guy like Mike Bossy or Pierre Turgeon be part of the decision-making process? You know, just to even things out a little. After all, if there’s always a place for guys with multiple suspensions and penalty minutes in the thousands, surely it could be balanced out with a couple of guys who won the Lady Byng Trophy and approached the game from a different perspective.
But that just doesn’t seem to be the way this league rolls. In fact, the department of player safety’s own mission statement reads this way: “We are committed to making the game as safe as possible for our players,” which is all good. But then it goes on to say, “while preserving the intensely physical, competitive and passionate nature of hockey.” Which is basically the NHL’s way of saying, “Yeah, we want the players to be safe, but make no mistake, we have no intention of turning this game into four-on-four ringette.”
Shouldn’t a department of player safety be concerned with making the game as safe as possible for all its players, full stop? Why does it need to be concerned with anything else. Decide whether a player’s safety was put at risk and whether the incident surrounding it broke the rules. That’s about it.
The league is capable of penalizing bad hits such as the John Moore hit on Erik Haula without fearing having hitting removed from the game. Case in point, was the Eric Gryba hit on Artem Anisimov. Anisimov was hurt on the play, largely because his helmet popped off, but the department saw the hit as a legal shoulder-to-chest hit that had a bad outcome. It decided no suspension was warranted and there’s no trouble with that.
But it would indeed be nice if the people making those decisions weren’t tilted so heavily in the direction of the guys who used to make those kinds of hits rather than receive them.