Hockey Hits: In with the Good Thoughts, Out with the Bad

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2010

DETROIT - MARCH 11: Cal Clutterbuck #22 of the Minnesota Wild takes a hit from Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings on March 11, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Okay. This is getting ridiculous.

I just read an article suggesting that if Matt Cooke is considered a dirty player, then Alexander Ovechkin is a dirty player as well.

And my response?

Who gives a flying fig?

{Author's Note: It should be noted that I do very much enjoy the Confluence blog on Kukla's Korner. Just not this particular article.}

Do I think that Cooke is a dirty player? Absolutely. I think that he’s made a name for himself in the NHL for being a player that skirts the line between the illegal and legal very, very well.

Do I think that Ovechkin is a dirty player? No.

Reckless? Without a doubt.

Does he maybe need to assess the situation a little more before making a teeth-rattling hit? Probably.

But 95 percent of his “dirty” plays are borne from the fact that he plays the game at about 220 miles-per-hour while everyone else plays it at about 150.

But once again—who really cares if one player is considered “dirty” while another is not?

Paul Kukla wrote a tremendous article on NHL.com the other day about cooling it with the complaining and just enjoying the game, and you know what? I completely agree with him!

The problem with these arguments is that they typically go like this:

Washington Capitals Fan: “Player A is dirty!”

Pittsburgh Penguins Fan: “No he’s not!  Player B is dirty!”

Anaheim Ducks Fan: “Players A and B are dirty!”

Colorado Avalanche Fan: “What are you talking about? Neither of them are dirty!”

All: @#$! you!

A very scholarly debate, no?

While I might be just a touch snarky with the example, the principle is basically the same. The Caps fan thinks someone on the Pens is dirty. The Pens fan thinks that he’s not and that someone on the Caps is dirty. The Ducks fan thinks that both players are dirty, while the Avs fan thinks that neither player is dirty.

The end result?

No one agrees and everyone gets worked up over nothing.

There are certainly debates in the hockey world that are worth having.

Every season, a debate typically rages over who should be taken first. This season, it’s between two Taylor’s (Hall and Seguin) and Cam Fowler. Last season, it was between John Tavares, Victor Hedman, and Matt Duchene. The year before, it was between Steven “Please just call yourself Steve” Stamkos and about 15 defensemen.

There is an eternal debate that rages over who the best player in history is. Is it Gretzky? Is it Lemieux? Is it Orr? Is it Howe?

Or the Patrick Roy versus Martin Brodeur debate. Or the Alexander Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby debate.

Each one of these debates are those that can be presented with quantifiable facts as well as observations from watching the players.

For example:

“I think Sidney Crosby’s better because he’s a more well-rounded player.”


“Patrick Roy is better because he didn’t play behind the Devils’ defense for his entire career.”

{Author’s Note: Before you crucify me for these two opinions, I don’t necessarily subscribe to them, they’re just examples.}


But when you get into a debate about which player is a dirty player and which player is not, you get into a more abstract field—one that the NHL tries to delve into when dishing out suspensions—intent.

There are times that intent is fairly clear (see: Sergei Gonchar’s superman-like dive at Cal Clutterbuck’s head). There are other times that it is not (see: about 95 percent of knee-on-knee hits).

For example, as much as it pains me to say so, I don’t know that Cooke’s intent was to separate Marc Savard’s memory from his brain when he blindsided him with his hit. The letter of the law stated that it might have been interference and common sense might have indicated that it was dangerous, but there’s no clear way to determine motive, even if the player has a history of “dangerous” plays.

The same applies to Ovechkin. We have no idea if his intent was to try to turn Brian Campbell into a slinky when he boarded him and put him out of action because, again, there’s no clear way to determine motive.

The game of hockey is played at such a pace that these players have to make split second decisions and they aren’t always the correct ones. This goes for decisions with the puck and with hits as well.

By focusing on whether or not players are “dirty,” we are focusing on the negative aspect(s) of the game. The talk around the water cooler isn’t “Did you see that sick goal last night?” anymore. It is instead, “Did you see what Cam Janssen did last night?” and “He’s such a dirty player.”

I know I’ve even been guilty of it a few times as well. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time for us to start focusing on the positive aspects of the game more than the negative.

Sure. It won’t change the fact that Player A might be viewed as a dirty player. But hey, at least you’ll enjoy the game more, right?


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