The entire NHL season is being played under a shadow. Now you could say it is being overshadowed.
Over the first eight months of 2011, four former NHL players committed suicide in what appear to be concussion-related depression. In September, a plane carrying former and future NHL players crashed.
I drew a connection between the events based on player safety and advocated for more on-ice protections. Supposedly, new league discipline czar Brendan Shanahan was going to come down hard on this and stop it.
Major scoring stars like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Daniel Sedin have missed time with concussions, and ace defender Chris Pronger missed the entire season. Bad hits were involved in more injuries as the season wore on.
In mid-February I wrote about how the league should also dissociate themselves with headshot advocates like one in their very own broadcast booth to move the game away from one that is literally killing people.
Inevitably, some person who questions his own masculinity and has to live it out vicariously through someone else labels me a pansy (a flower that is quite hearty, actually) or a more misogynistic term, questioning my manhood for wanting to keep people alive.
There is plenty of room for legal hits. Dustin Brown got a very good one on Henrik Sedin in their first-round series. There needs to be more of that, not less.
But when Shea Weber slams Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass, then grabs it and does it again and does not get suspended, there is no reason for the antics to cease. Sometimes you take a penalty, sometimes a suspension, sometimes both and rarely neither. That says, "Do it to win now, worry about the consequences later."
In Game 2 of the San Jose Sharks vs, St. Louis Blues, there were several despicable acts. The Sharks hit Andy McDonald high (head not targeted, but hit was reckless endangerment), Brent Burns threw an elbow to the back of Scott Nichol's head, Roman Polak continued to pummel a defenceless Justin Braun, Vladimir Svobotka sucker-punched Dominic Moore and McDonald slew-footed Logan Couture.
Not one of them suffered a thing. For a discipline czar, Shanny seems to be doing little to protect the integrity of the results. Teams are being forced to fight to respond to something that could have prevented from happening in the first place.
Potential fans who like what they see every four years in the Olympics are turned off because they did not want MMA, UFC or boxing. If adding a shootout that corrupts point totals in the regular season is done to grow the game's fanbase and commissioner Gary Bettman can try to force teams into non-traditional markets over supportive Canadian choices, why not draw people in by avoiding excessive fights?
But that is not what bothers me. Let two men facing each other and mutually tossing off the gloves go at it. I would rather the sport have broad appeal, but I will watch it anyway.
What I cannot stand is the way a team can get an edge on another by breaking the rules and endangering their opponent's quality of life for decades after the game is over. A bottom-five player can go on the ice and mug another team's star, tipping the competitive balance and delivering one of the major blows that erode a man's brain until he puts a bullet in it.
If Shanahan and the league were really interested in increasing fans, protecting players and maintaining the integrity of the playoffs, they would send a message right now. Make it known playoff games will count the same as regular season games, and teams will reign in their goons.
Then we can get back to dwelling on the exciting playoff hockey that has seen two series with both games going to overtime, the favourite in each conference down 3-0 and all other series remain up for grabs.
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