Aaron Ward of the Boston Bruins and Saku Koivu of the Montreal Canadiens exchange words. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
I don’t agree with Aaron Ward on everything.
For instance, in September of 2007, in response to The Hockey News’ pre-season prediction his Boston Bruins would finish last in the Eastern Conference, Ward went off on the sportswriting profession using the most intellectually inert argument of them all – the idea only elite-level athletes can comment on the sport in which they excel.
Taken to its logical and ridiculous extreme, that philosophy would hold that the only person who can write about Wayne Gretzky would be Wayne Gretzky – because clearly, nobody can understand or opine about why he does what he does if they haven’t played the game at his skill level. The argument also would restrict the insights of commentators such as Nick Kypreos and Darren Pang to the fields of enforcers and short goalies. Respectively.
Ward and I do concur, however, when the NHL’s patently absurd supplementary discipline program is the topic of discussion.
Ward’s candor on the subject first caught my attention a couple months after he got touchy about THN’s prediction. In November of ’07, the veteran blueliner was concussed when Montreal’s Francis Bouillon elbowed him in the head – and when the league didn’t punish the Canadiens defenseman, Ward did not choose to travel the Wayne Gretzky/Sidney Crosby Politically Correct Freeway in expressing his disgust:
“In my past dealings with the National Hockey League, I’ve learned to set my expectations low. They met them,” Ward told the Boston Globe at the time. “It was a cheap hit…the puck is 140 feet away. It’s not even in the zone. (The lack of suspension is) inexplicable. But I’ll deal with it and move on.”
Ward did deal with it, did move on – and guess what he got for it? An elbow in the throat from Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar in a February, 2008 game, as well as no supplementary discipline for the Penguins D-man’s borderline dirty reaction.
So it was easy to understand Ward’s fury after his most recent run-in with the NHL’s system of justice, which apparently isn’t only blind, but also deaf, dumb and suffering from a serious case of attention deficit disorder.
The NHL continues (and will continue) to claim they care about the health of players like Ward. We should know by now this is simply untrue. And I will prove it with a series of scenes from this year’s playoffs, the place where, given the NHL’s odd logic in demarking the line between regular season and post-season suspensions, it must be true that every player’s head is even more precious this time of year.
First I will point to Mike Cammalleri drilling Martin Havlat square between the chops. Then I will reference Chris Kunitz cross-checking Simeon Varlamov in the neck. Then I will recall Mike Brown decimating Jiri Hudler, Ward getting creamed by Walker and Donald Brashear adding to his stellar resume by taking out Blair Betts of the Rangers.
Then I will tell them that only one of those situations resulted in a suspension.
Well, I’ll say, technically there were two suspensions, but the league rescinded one of them.
No wonder players take revenge into their own hands so often. If you kept turning to the local lawman to enforce what everyone agrees is right, only to see the lawman stare back at you blankly, soon enough you’d turn to vigilantism too.
The really sad thing will be if Ward really snaps one day and seriously injures his opponent, intentionally or otherwise, on the same type of play he has been the victim of. The league and the law assuredly would come down on him with no mercy – not because what he did was any different than what others had done to him before, but because the outcome, the pure random chance of it all, turned out to be different, and worse, for him.
I don’t buy any of that garbage. Not a scintilla, not for a second.
It is the height of irony that a league full of lawyers condones character-driven justice and ignores the simple tenets of fair play and sportsmanship, while decrying any effort to protect those who play it as a quaint and unattainable cause.
In the NHL’s obstruction crackdown we have seen a demonstration of the league’s ability to change player behavior both for the benefit of its on-ice employees as well as its fans. It has the same ability to act to reduce unnecessary threats to player health, but it chooses not to.
And guess what else? Those Milburians who want to talk about the ‘pansyfication’ of the game were for the most part the same people who railed against the obstruction crackdown. You’d think the improved hockey product would’ve humbled that conservative element, but they haven’t let that defeat slow down their efforts to protect their idea of a game, but not the people who play it.
Meanwhile, players like Aaron Ward get decimated each and every night of the NHL season.
It ain’t sensible. It ain’t hockey. And no matter how many insipid, indefensible suspensions the league pulls out of its posterior, it ain’t the right way to do business.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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