Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the latest NHL superstar to be branded with the loathsome label that comes from slew-footing an opposing player after his actions against the New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan late in the first period of Monday's game.
Both players were hustling towards center ice when Crosby caught up to Callahan and intentionally slew-footed the right winger.
Strangely, it was Callahan who was penalized for interference rather than Crosby, who committed the dangerous and uncalled-for misdeed despised by hockey purists.
While interviewed during the first intermission, Callahan's teammate Brandon Dubinsky accused Crosby of the controversial action: "That's a dirty play. He's a guy who tries to get away with a lot of that stuff. He complains a lot."
Rule No. 52 of the Official NHL Rulebook defines the current actions that can be taken against a player who is found to have slew-footed another player:
52.1 Slew-footing - Slew-footing is the act of a player or goalkeeper using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him, or pushes an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of his leg, knocks or kicks the opponent’s feet from under him, causing him to fall violently to the ice.
52.2 Match Penalty - Any player who is guilty of slew-footing shall be assessed a match penalty.
52.3 Fines and Suspensions - There are no specified fines or suspensions for slew-footing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).
Clearly, slew-footing is an ongoing issue in the NHL, as a growing number of players have been found guilty of the offense. Stars like the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin have only received minor fines for committing slew-footing infractions. In Ovechkin's case, his punishment was a light "slap on the wrist"-type $2,500 fine for his transgression against Rich Peverley of the Atlanta Thrashers in October of 2009.
Both Crosby and Ovechkin are two of the most heavily marketed icons league-wide, and the NHL must find a way to seriously crack down on offenders.
Compiling a list of players who have a reputation of slew-footing opponents would contain a large number of distinguished stars such as Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks. The Rangers' Sean Avery and Steve Downie of the Tampa Bay Lightning are just two players who are considered "serial offenders" by both the media and fans alike.
The topic is gaining interest amongst both diehard hockey fans and casual followers of the NHL. Hockey fans are demanding that major actions are taken against future cases of slew-footing. Critics of the NHL continue to use these incidents and infamous violent acts in hockey's history to condemn the sport.
When highly visible players engage in such deplorable conduct on the ice, many well-known media personalities are ready to pounce on the sport, such as Pardon The Interruption's Michael Wilbon.
A highly esteemed Washington Post journalist, Wilbon tends to offer strong opinions about what he refers to as "goonery" or "thuggery" that he considers to be commonplace in the National Hockey League. While I feel that his intentions are just and his heart is in the right place, his knowledge of the current NHL isn't broad enough to weigh in on such issues.
He is just one of many members of his profession who swim around like sharks waiting for a high-profile incident to take place and then attempt to further sully the reputation of the great sport of hockey.
It isn't just longtime critics of the sport, but also those who proudly carry the flag for hockey, such as CBC Television's Don Cherry, who urge those in charge to clean up the NHL.
Cherry spoke strongly about a well-publicized slew-footing case in February 2009 committed by the Montreal Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec. "When you do this, this guy (Denis Grebeshkov) will be out. If it's as bad as they say, an upper strain of the ligaments—he'll be out for the year. He (Plekanec) gets two games! This guy will be out for the year! If you want to get a guy killed that's the way to do it," he declared.
Over the years, the vast number of despicable moments that have taken place in NHL arenas have given hockey critics ample ammunition to direct at a sport that has suffered countless PR black eyes in its long history. The perception of the sport to those who are casual followers of hockey is at stake. If a future result of a slew-footing leads to a career-ending injury, serious brain damage or possibly tragic death, it won't only be indifferent fans who will abandon the NHL for good.
It's high time that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell take significant steps towards severely disciplining slew-foot rule violators in every future instance. Hockey's soul is in jeopardy, and immediate discussions must take place. This isn't an issue that should be pushed aside until the offseason or when the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on September 15, 2012.