Cody McLeod steals the spotlight with vicious hit from behind on Niklas Kronwall

Ken Campbell

Right about now, we should be talking about how the only two undefeated teams in the NHL lost their first games of the season or how Taylor Hall knocked Wayne Gretzky out of the Edmonton Oilers record book by scoring two goals in eight seconds. But the NHL being what it is, always seems to find a way to upstage itself when one of its players makes a boneheaded move that takes attention away from what a great game this is.

Two nights ago, the hockey world was looking forward to a clash of the titans when the St. Louis Blues met the San Jose Sharks. It could, and should, have been an epic game. But Max Lapierre, in a move that was as dumb as it was malicious, hijacked the agenda by driving Dan Boyle’s face into the boards. It sucked all the energy and passion out of what should have been an outstanding game and San Jose won in a romp.

Thursday night, it was one of the league’s classic rivalries, with the Detroit Red Wings visiting the Colorado Avalanche, one of the feel-good stories of this season. But just over two minutes into the game, Cody McLeod looked right at Niklas Kronwall’s numbers, made absolutely no attempt to let up, and drove his face into the glass. The Red Wings later said that Kronwall suffered a “minor concussion,” which is actually just wishful thinking on their part. The reality is that no two concussions are the same and while Kronwall could be back in a week, nobody has any idea how long it will take him to recover.

Good thing he deserved it, though. At least that’s what Avs analyst Peter McNab, a good guy and a pretty decent analyst who tried his best to be even more brainless than Cody McLeod at that moment, thought when he declared that Kronwall, “got a little of (his) own medicine.” McNab went on to say that Kronwall has made a career of dishing out big hits, but the difference is Kronwall has made a career of administering big open-ice hits that are generally clean.

And speaking of McLeod, once again we have one of these senseless acts perpetrated by another one of these so-called honest tough guys, you know, the guys who are supposed to keep everything safe out there. The fact is, McLeod has almost as many career fights (70) as he has points (79). Isn’t he supposed to be around to stop rats like Lapierre and (reformed rat) Matt Cooke from doing this kind of stuff? Really working well, isn’t it? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: For some reason, the hockey establishment seems to think you need guys like Cody McLeod around to protect your skill players from guys like Cody McLeod.

Of course, this kind of ridiculousness is exacerbated by a league that refuses to truly get serious about these kinds of hits and a players’ association that tacitly approves of them by virtue of the fact it goes to bat for these guys when they appeal their suspensions. The fact the NHLPA will argue on Patrick Kaleta’s behalf in the appeal of his 10-game suspension represents an enormous conflict of interest.

It all makes you wonder whether these guys will ever learn. Kaleta has been fined or suspended six times over the past four years, so you have to wonder whether he can ever be rehabilitated. Perhaps he just knows that he’s one of the worst players in the NHL and that he simply has to play that way to stay in the league. And if it costs him a couple hundred thousand dollars and, ultimately perhaps his livelihood, well at least he made his money while he could.

The NHL should be harsh on Lapierre and McLeod, but it probably won’t. Neither is a repeat offender by the strict definition of the term by the collective bargaining agreement, so their actions and sentences will be viewed as isolated, one-time events. Then it will have to deal with the players’ association, which will somehow think it’s perfectly all right that the interests of Cody McLeod will trump those of Niklas Kronwall.

The thing is, for the most part, NHL players have learned to show their opponents more respect when it comes to hits from behind over the past couple of years. The vast majority knows when to let up, the same way Ryan Reaves of the Blues did on a hit along the boards against Chicago Thursday night. But there is a group of these guys who are either too disrespectful or too dim to make the adjustments so many others have.

Whatever the case, they should have their right to play in the best league in the world taken away from them for a long, long time.