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Thrashers star Keith Tkachuk says players must show each other more respect

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Thrashers star Keith Tkachuk says players must show each other more respect

The Canadian Press
By:

Hockey is a tough game and for a team to be successful, it has to be played that way. Against opponents of similar stature, he would do the same. Only far too often this season, Tkachuk believes, tough play has given way to dirty play. And with a spate of recent ugly incidents in mind, the veteran power forward feels his fellow players need to be a little more considerate toward their opponents.

"I think guys are taking a little more liberties now whereas years ago you had to be held accountable," Tkachuk said on a conference call Wednesday. "Now with more and more players coming in there's a lot of guys who aren't accountable. It's not fair. You want to go out and do something but you can't because you're worried about the consequences.

"We all have to be a little more careful and have a little more respect for each other.

"That being said, if it's legal to go out and finish a guy I don't care who he is, if he's a star player and it's a clean hit, that's what you have to do to win. There's a fine line there and I think it's been crossed way too much this year."

Saturday night's game between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars is the perfect example of what Tkachuk is talking about. Predators pest Jordin Tootoo levelled Stars captain Mike Modano with a clean and hard hit but when Stephane Robidas came in to protect the Dallas star, Tootoo turned and socked him with no warning, knocking the defenceman cold.

Tootoo earned a five-game suspension for his actions while Robidas is nursing a concussion.

On March 2, New Jersey Devils forward Cam Janssen slammed Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle into the boards with a late, unnecessary hit. Kaberle sustained a concussion and has been out of action since while Janssen was suspended for three games.

Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak took on Janssen when the teams met again Tuesday night in an attempt to re-establish some sort of deterrent against taking liberties with the team's star players.

In one of the nastier moments in recent memory, New York Islanders enforcer Chris Simon took a vicious stick swing at the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg on March 8, earning himself a 25-game suspension. Simon was retaliating after a borderline hit from Hollweg.

"The bottom line is you do whatever it takes to win," said Tkachuk. "If I was playing against Hossa and Kovalchuk, you want to try to prevent them from playing well so you got to be tough against them. I would do that against Pittsburgh or whoever else you play, you want to make it tough on all the guys, but there's a line you don't want to cross and you have to have respect for each other.

"The hitting from behind is not worth it for anybody, you just can't do it, the punches to the head, it's been tough the last month and a half in the NHL."

One common theory as to why respect has dipped is the instigator rule, which penalizes a player who initiates a fight with a two-minute minor and a game misconduct. Advocates of such thinking say the risk of ejection prevents players from policing themselves.

An example came Feb. 1 in Pittsburgh when Penguins forward Colby Armstrong levelled Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu and defenceman Sheldon Souray jumped in to protect the Finnish star. Souray received an instigator penalty and was ejected, leaving the Habs without their top defenceman in a game they eventually lost in a shootout.

That type of call leaves players in a catch-22 - protect your teammate, even if it leads to an ejection and hurts the club; or turn the other cheek, leaving opponents to think it's open season on the team's stars.

Another factor is that the new NHL has forced many tough guys to the sidelines because of the new emphasis on skill and speed. Without them, there is no deterrent against aggressive physical players like Tootoo and Sean Avery.

"A lot of the tough guys who were part of that league to kind of eliminate those guys, there's not many of them left in the game," Modano said on a conference call earlier this week. "The game has changed, coaches find it hard to coach those guys. The type of game that's played out there now is faster and quicker. Those guys are valuable. They were obviously valuable to my career early on and still to this day.

"So, yeah, you need to get a rule and it's something that's been talked about in that situation, too. But when you get players like (Tootoo) who can play the game a little bit and be a pest and hit the body and be physical and tough, you can never have enough of those guys.

"But still, you need (tough) guys to kind of settle the situation down if it gets a little too crazy."

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Thrashers star Keith Tkachuk says players must show each other more respect