Just Ducks Being Ducks: NHL Thugs in Anaheim

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Just Ducks Being Ducks: NHL Thugs in Anaheim
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The Matt Cooke hit inspired the league to change the rules on head-hunting, but Anaheim's James Wisniewski apparently did not get the message. Wednesday, he lined up Brent Seabrook on the boards and targeted his head (view here ).

He should have gotten a match penalty for the hit on a defenseless player and an ejection. Instead, he received a two-minute minor.

When asked if he would face a suspension, he said, "I hope not," Wisniewski said. "I didn't do anything wrong. The result of what happened isn't good, but there wasn't anything wrong that I did."

Really, James? Because it was a boarding (hit from behind against the boards on a defenceless player, which is supposed to be a match penalty), charging (more than two strides directly at a player; this was over 20 feet), roughing (elbow to the head with arm extended), and interference (he had long since passed the puck).

But you did nothing wrong. And we are just supposed to believe it was a coincidence that this followed a hard but completely legal hit by Seabrook on Corey Perry?

And that is just it: Anaheim has played this way for so long, they and their fans (with whom I have had many debates on the matter, and probably will again since this article carries the Ducks flag) seem to think it is a perfectly acceptable method of play. And why shouldn't they feel entitled to such behaviour if the league does not step in?

Want proof this is about the organization? Wisniewski was a teammate of Seabrook's until just over a year ago and was quoted saying he is a close friend. He did not have these incidents before coming to Soutern California but has been suspended twice in 13 months with the Ducks.

Do not misunderstand me: I was an enforcer, and I do not mind fighting. I hate cheap shots, which is why I have never been afraid to fight on my own or my teammates' behalf if an opponent committed them.

But if I suited up as a Duck, I am now convinced I would deliver a dirty hit to someone within a year, too. It is a culture of that team—almost a requirement of its players—that needs to be addressed by the league.

In one ten month period with the Ducks, Chris Pronger (one of the most frequently suspended players in league history at nine times) was suspended for hitting a Red Wings player from behind in the head up against the boards, and then for stomping with his skate on a player whose only infraction was daring to fight Pronger for the puck.

Last season against the San Jose Sharks alone, Corey Perry slashed Marc-Edouard Vlasic twice in the face within a couple of seconds of the defenceman falling on the puck. He cross-checked Evgeni Nabokov in the legs. He submarined Brian Boucher after the whistle.

This was the first team to sign Todd Bertuzzi following one of the worst attacks in NHL history—a history that, let's face it, is horrible regarding violent attacks.

In any game in which the Sharks have dominated the Ducks (obviously these are all in the regular season), the game turns into a thug-fest: The Ducks turn to fighting when they cannot compete playing hockey. This is why they are perpetually among league leaders in penalty minutes and fighting majors.

And now this. It is clear that this is what the team preaches.

The positive for us fans that want to watch hockey and not roller derby on ice is that the Ducks penalty kill is so bad this year that their thuggery is costing them. But we cannot count on that; Anaheim's great penalty kill in 2007 was the reason they still won the Stanley Cup the year Pronger was suspended in the playoffs.

It is time head coach Randy Carlyle be held responsible for it. It is time that teams be held responsible for fostering dirty players and dirty plays done on their behalf—maybe then the game will start to evolve from the Neanderthal mentality it now has.

It is time to send a message: Suspend Wisniewski for the rest of the season, fine the Ducks, and issue a warning to Carlyle that another such incident will result in a suspension for him. That will stop this kind of play all around the league.

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