David Koci and Derek Boogaard go toe-to-toe in an October game. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)
Today, we honor the best question I’ve received since the mailbag column began by making it the only question for this edition.
I would like your opinion as to where the NHL will be in five years. It seems since the lockout and rule changes there has been a constant regression of a sport that is based on speed and skill, to a sport that resembles, at times, UFC on ice. It really makes me wonder who the caretaker of our game will be.
I have huge concerns that, to appease the non-Canadian hockey market, there is an implicit approval of increased violence in our sport as a way to attract interest and, ultimately, earn money. Mr. Bettman has shown no vision as to what our game should look like and he does not have the mandate or experience to define the game.
I hope NHLPA boss Paul Kelly can work with the players to define the type of play we expect. Now there is no respect, only hate and a lack of remorse for the other players. When we see third- and fourth-line players skating full speed on the forecheck and running a defenseman from behind, that is nothing but violence.
There are simply too many players whose only role is to play aggressively. Imagine another sport, such as soccer, basketball, football or rugby that had players who only played five minutes a game and when they got on the field their sole job was to injure another player.
In every other sport, the players have to have the requisite skill to play their position and within that context they may be an aggressive player. Imagine if basketball had a Derek Boogaard-type to rough up or injure Chris Bosh under the basket; or perhaps we should have a George Parros injure LeBron James while he is doing a lay-up.
It seems laughable at the thought, but in hockey we have players whose main skill is fighting or running players into the boards, with no thought of getting the puck. Perhaps it is saddest that kids’ hockey is now, for the first time in years, developing players who are wannabe goons. A slippery slope for sure.
Hal Montford, Bobcaygeon, Ont.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. But, as I still get tons of questions on the topic of the NHL Gone Wild, let me expand on the issue a little.
As I’ve said for quite a while now, I don’t think the league can ever completely outlaw fighting and acts of extreme aggression. Nor do I want to see an NHL in which hard, legal checking is a thing of the past.
But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of many – including active NHLers and executives, by the way – that something has to be done to save the players from themselves.
Simply put, the vigilante culture touted by those with a vested financial interest in maintaining the current level of mayhem has to be addressed with the same conviction Brendan Shanahan had when he put forth his ideas for post-lockout changes to the game.
If that results in suspensions of unprecedented length and a massive re-education of players, coaches, owners and GMs, so be it.
Unfortunately, I share your pessimism as it pertains to the emergence of a visionary with the stones to stand up to the old boys’ network. I know this is going to shock more than a few of you, but Bettman only demonstrated a passion for league-wide unity and placed strict demands on teams when the issue at hand centered around profits for owners.
And though I think Paul Kelly already is well on his way to becoming the best Players’ Association boss of all time, he already has expressed his reluctance to force his constituents to do the right thing when it comes to mandatory visors. If he won’t press on that issue, how could he possibly dig in and call for the profound change in philosophy the game so desperately requires?
What’s it going to take to drag the NHL toward civility and the same rules that govern all professional sports leagues? In all honesty, I’d say a combination of (a) a death on the ice, (b) a massive lawsuit from a former player or player’s family, and (c) some kind of governmental inquiry.
Is it sad that it would have to come to that? Absolutely. But the insular, dismissive NHL powers that be have kept their heads stuck under sand for so long, there’s no other way it can get better.
Ask Adam appears Tuesdays and Fridays only on The Hockey News.com. To send us your question or comment, click HERE.