In this week's mailbag, THN's Adam Proteau answers questions on Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, a suspension matrix for the NHL, and changes in the league's culture of fighting.
Happy Friday. Once again, I have questions and also answers. Thanks to those who sent a question in. And remember, if you don’t see your inquiry dealt with online, you’ll want to check THN magazine to see if I responded there.
Is Tim Thomas good enough to play in the NHL? He seems very shaky.
Caedon Markin, Port Alberni, B.C.
While it’s true NHL-caliber goalies don’t forget how to stop pucks simply because they took a year off – in Thomas’ case, for a personal sabbatical – it’s also true it will be a challenge to find their form and fitness levels quickly upon their return.
That goes double if you’re almost 40 years old, the age Thomas will turn in mid-April. So it’s hardly news that, since he signed to play in Florida, he’s already been injured twice: the first time was in early October, when he missed four games with a groin injury. After just two games back, he suffered a “lower-body injury” (which could be the groin again) and was placed on the Panthers’ injured reserve.
When he was healthy, Thomas was wildly inconsistent; he’s posted a save percentage of .925 or higher in four of the six games he’s played, but in the other two, his SP SV% was dismal (.821 and .600). It doesn’t help matters that Florida is one of the league’s worst teams. But it is an indication that Father Time is an opponent not even the most determined athletes can overcome in the end.
When are the NHL and NHLPA going to realize the current method of deciding supplementary punishment just isn't working? Having a single person make the call, whether it's Brendan Shanahan or Colin Campbell or Bozo the Clown, allows personal bias to play too great a part.
The thought process used by that person to determine the length of a suspension is shrouded in mystery. Probably over half of the suspensions handed out over the past decade have caused confusion and dissatisfaction with a wide range of fans. How can the league fix this increasingly intolerable situation?
Jim Rinkenberger, Pekin, Ill.
I agree that punishments have to have more teeth to change the culture of the league. However, I've yet to see any evidence of personal bias from Shanahan in carrying out his duties, and I think that’s a very serious charge to make without any evidence to back it up. The reality is Shanahan is working within the bounds of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement negotiated by owners and players. That is the only place from which real change can be effected.
For many people, the solution to the issue is a one-size-fits-all suspension matrix that has zero subjectivity to it. But league officials I’ve spoken with make it clear they think every incident is like a snowflake: special in its own way, and worthy of being judged on its own merit. I can see that line of reasoning, but ultimately it leads to fan disgust/dissatisfaction and I think that’s in many ways more important to recognize and address than the particulars of any individual case.
Why is it that so few current players feel the need to outlaw fighting in hockey? It's clear an objective stance needs to be taken when examining its place in our game, so what's stopping players like Sidney Crosby, Martin St-Louis and Jonathan Toews, each of whom play a game that doesn't typically include fighting, from expressing concerns shared by members of the NHL executives community and the NHL media (i.e. fighting should be banned)?
Max Lutz, Edmonton
The way you frame the solution is part of the problem. You can’t “ban” or “outlaw” fighting in any sport. However, you can dismantle the professional fighting industry within the NHL. Players typically don’t speak out because the league can be a political place (like any workplace) and they don’t want to be punished for their opinion.
And when you confront them with the idea of “banning” fighting, of course they’re going to be against it. That’s not what any rational person wants to do. I bet that, if you went to NHLPA membership and said, “Do you want to do more to punish one-dimensional players and/or dangerous repeat offenders?” you’d get a much different answer. League elder statesman Teemu Selanne just came out and said the league and NHLPA have to agree to tougher punishments.
And as the years go on and scientific information continues to pour in, the mindsets of hockey lifers will continue to evolve in regard to fisticuffs, the way the opinion of Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and others did. It’s inevitable.
Ask Adam appears Fridays on THN.com. Ask your question on our submission page. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.