Monday, May 02, 2016

NHL prefers testosterone over safety come playoff time

By Mark Madden
May 2, 2016

Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik levels Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta with a high hit during the first period of Game 2 in their Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday in Washington. Pittsburgh won 2-1. (AP)

Sidney Crosby got it exactly right.
“We’re a skilled, fast team,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat host Washington 2-1 on Saturday. “A lot of teams try to slow us down or be extra physical against us. We know if we get sucked into that, we’re getting away from our game. We’re not productive that way. We put ourselves in a bad position.”
Well said.
But the problem may be attrition.
Washington’s Brooks Orpik knocked the Penguins’ Olli Maatta out of the ongoing playoff series between the Capitals and Penguins. Which Penguin will be next to be injured?
Orpik’s blatant headhunting was disappointing given his class tenure as a member of the Penguins, and considering he had just returned from a concussion inflicted (albeit cleanly) by Philadelphia meathead Ryan White.
One would expect Orpik to have more respect.
But very few athletes do.
Hockey, like other sports, bleats endlessly about respect. But repeated actions reveal that to be just a lot of talk.
The notion of respect is dead. Someday, a hockey player will be, too. Killed on the ice. Maybe then, the NHL will really do something about the head-shot problem.
Or, maybe not. The reason those head shots (and other despicable acts) won’t stop is because the NHL almost always administers inadequate discipline.
Washington’s Tom Wilson is a criminal on skates. In the first game of the current series, Wilson inflicted a vicious, deliberate, knee-on-knee hit to Conor Sheary, a player eight inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter, then laughed and chirped the Penguins bench.
Wilson got a mere $2,403.67 fine. He makes $925K. For Wilson, $2,403.67 is toilet paper (mind the coins). So why wouldn’t Wilson do it? The NHL certainly didn’t provide a reason for him to stop.
Orpik got suspended three games.
Maatta’s series and season are almost certainly over because of Orpik’s deliberate and malicious act. His career may be impacted.
Maatta looked like a zombie leaving the ice. Much like Orpik when he got concussed against Philadelphia. Why would somebody who endured that turn around and inflict that?
The Penguins can’t be absolved. Not when they once employed Matt Cooke, aka Public Enemy No. 1, and James Neal, who augmented his considerable skill with a series of nasty deeds. Not when Kris Letang escaped any punishment after nearly beheading the New York Rangers’ Viktor Stalberg in an opening-round game.
Local hockey fans very much owe NHL commissioner Gary Bettman a debt of gratitude for battling to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. That should never be forgotten.
But Bettman’s product is shambolic and run haphazardly. It too often emphasizes hockey’s worst elements at the expense of the best.
Bettman has always struck me as a reasonable man.
But too many of his lieutenants are boneheaded Neanderthals like Colin Campbell, an erstwhile plug defenseman employed as an executive by the NHL for 18 years despite a vision for the game that’s been nothing but bad and a bedside manner that’s been nothing but crude.
The NHL’s hockey operations department employs three ex-players, a former executive and a retired referee. They have one college diploma between them.
Having played hockey in the world's best professional league doesn’t necessarily mean you’re qualified to administer that league. Hockey ops dopes Campbell, Kris King and Mike Murphy prove that.
The NHL indulges the idiotic notion that hockey is a man’s game, and that penalties and suspensions get in the way of testosterone deciding who wins.
If a player tries to injure, hypothesize why it could have been an accident. Play down what happened. Fine and suspend minimally. If a blatant penalty is committed late in a close game, ignore it.
The NHL believes that keeps the game pure.
It does anything but. The league’s approach skews results consistently and negatively.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9)

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