Walking the Line: Sami Salo: When Does Courage Become Cowardice?

Salim Valji@@salimvaljiCorrespondent IMay 13, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 09: Sami Salo #6 of the Vancouver Canucks skates off of the ice at the end of the first period after suffering an injury against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 9, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Canucks defeated the Blackhawks 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Courage always seems to show itself in some unique fashion during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  It's either the superstar forward who, only after his season has ended, reveals he played through a broken ankle, or the super-pest who continually shows up and competes despite a cracked rib or two. 

That's when we start to mention Sami Salo, and his heroics to try and help salvage his Canucks' season by playing through the most painful of "lower body" injuries.  

But was that display really courage, or an act of pure selfishness?  It's hard to blatantly question an inspiring performance like the one Salo put on, but the question has to be posed: Is courage the correct term for that act?

The reason why I ask this question is because of the similar circumstances Hal Gill of the Montreal Canadians was in the night before.  Gill had cut his leg during the previous game and, like Salo, his playing status was up in the air and to be determined at game time. 

It was at game time that Gill, a Stanley Cup winner and leader in the Montreal Canadians dressing room, deemed himself unfit to play.  That is a true act of courage. 

Here is a leader of a desperate hockey team in a do-or-die situation and the guy that has to shut down the game's best player admitting to the entire hockey world that he was not healthy enough to do his job to the best of his ability. 

That was something Salo should have done.  On a team with a depleted blue line as it was, the last thing they needed was a less-than-100 percent healthy body in a do-or-die game. 

Instead of swallowing his pride and sitting out a crucial game that could (and eventually would) make or break the Vancouver Canucks season, Salo took his spot in the lineup card instead of making way for a much healthier, albeit lesser quality, defense-man in Lawrence Nycholat. 

Although Salo's numbers from that Game 6 were not terrible by any means (more than 20 minutes of ice time, -1) he was clearly a few steps behind the other players and was much less effective than a healthier Nycholat would have been. 

Salo had to have known, when he ultimately made the decision to play, that his effectiveness would be very limited; yet he chose to play anyway.  The leader of a team on the ropes was, unlike Gill in Montreal the night before, unwilling to swallow his pride and sit in the press box for a night.     

The next question to ask is, if Salo knew he would be limited physically, what was his motivation for playing?  In an age of Iphones, tweets and blogging, at any given time thousands of people could be typing, "Sami Salo deserves a medal for his performance in Game 6." 

Did he play to attempt to make a difference or for the extra hits on Google?

The definition of the word "courage" varies from person to person, even from dictionary to dictionary. 

Courage is Hal Gill voluntarily removing himself from Game 6. Courage is Steve Smith talking to reporters after scoring on his own net in the '86 playoffs against Calgary. Courage may even be the very writing of this article. But courage is not Sami Salo. That's cowardice, and there's a difference.