Alex Steen is hit by Francis Bouillon. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Clearly, those who don’t think the NHL needs to do something about hits from behind and headshots think the player who is being hit has a responsibility to protect himself and not make himself vulnerable.
That much became crystal clear when the Finish-Your-Check apologists – many of whom occupy positions of power in the upper reaches of NHL headquarters – tried to rationalize the Tom Kostopoulos hit on Mike Van Ryn last weekend, a hit that earned Kostopoulos a three-game suspension and significant chunk of change.
Fine. If the NHL refuses to do anything about the alarming number of players who are going down from hits that are the result of forecheckers simply doing what they’re told, then NHL players are going to have to brace themselves every time they go into the corners and along the boards. Oh yeah, they’ll have to watch what they do every time they reach for a puck in the neutral zone and they’ll have to make sure not to admire any of their passes either.
Alrighty, then. Let’s just see what those people who think the NHL has become a pansy league think when players start throwing up a bunch of snow in the corner and bail out on retrieving the puck in order to avoid having their faces smashed against the glass.
Let’s venture a guess as to what will happen, shall we? Those players will immediately be referred to as spineless wimps who can’t take a hit and their exploits will be highlighted by the high-collared one every Saturday night. Instead of actually going to get pucks in the corners and against the boards, players will start to turn themselves around to face their attackers and will be roasted for it. Then we can all watch while they get their sticks up to protect themselves, smack guys in the face, then be referred to as dirty, rotten, gutless swines who carelessly wield their lumber.
The NHL, as usual, has nobody but itself to blame on this one. First, there seems to be the notion that a player can start his check from another zone and finish it by bringing up elbows, arms and shoulders, while going at full speed. And in its effort to castrate goalies by not allowing them to play the puck outside a designated area, it created the unintended consequence of defensemen becoming one with the boards and the glass.
And then there’s that dastardly instigator rule. Of course, it didn’t prevent Maple Leafs defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo from immediately going after Kostopoulos and throwing his gloves off. Neither did the possibility that Colaiacovo might step on Van Ryn, causing him a potentially career-ending injury had Colaiacovo lost his footing.
It’s another example of a league that refuses to protect its most coveted asset – its players. The league won’t do it, the NHL Players’ Association won’t do it and the players themselves are either unable or unwilling to do it amongst themselves.
So let’s put the blame on the guy who’s being hit. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.