Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Picking your poison


Washington's Donald Brashear's blind-side, possible-elbow-to-head hit on Blair Betts, the New York Rangers' best penalty killer, cost Brashear six games while the Rangers played much of Game 6 and will play all of Game 7 without one of their most valued members.

Brashear averaged 8:15 ice time in 63 games this season, scoring four points (one goal). Betts' numbers aren't that dissimilar (10:37, 10 points, six goals, 81 games) but he's one type of player whose value cannot be fully translated into numbers (though he does have two shorthanded goals, some evidence of his excellent penalty killing abilities.) Brashear doesn't kill penalties. To paraphrase Eddie Olczyk during the telecast, it's probably not a coincidence that after Betts had to leave Game 6, the Capitals scored on their next two power plays.

Washington fans will take that trade-off. New York followers, not so much.

Thuggery, goonism, pick whichever word you want, and types like Brashear need to be weeded out of the league. Not fighting, per se (witness the fight of Max Talbot-Daniel Carcillo from Game 6 Saturday and see how that can change a game), just goons like Brashear.

So how about this (and someone else might've come up with this idea before): If a scenario like this happens in a playoff series, the team losing the player to injury gets to pick who on the offending team serves the suspension. Think that'll stop lunkheads like Brashear from pulling these kinds of stunts?

Even if the league restricts the victimized team (the one with the hurt player) to pick from only a handful of players. Obviously, the Rangers would want to have Alexander Ovechkin serve the suspension (actually maybe they'd pick Simeon Varlamov, since they can't get any pucks past him.)

But even settling for, say, Washington's top PK man, would serve as a much more "fair" sentencing and prevent coaches/players from ordering/taking blatant, malicious runs at unsuspecting players, key members of the opposition. We saw an intent to injure in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, when the aforementioned Carcillo punched Talbot in the back of Talbot's neck off a faceoff in the waning seconds of what was a 4-1 Penguins victory. If Mike Richards was suspended instead of Carcillo for Game 2, do you think Carcillo would've dressed in Game 3?

It'll never happen, but if league officials are serious about growing the league's popularity, they have to do something to start getting rid of cheapshots and players who have such a narrow role on a team. Baseball teams don't employ pitchers just to throw at hitters, football teams don't send in a sub to go after someone's knees.

There will always be members of hockey teams willing to fight. Joe Thornton even dropped the gloves with Ryan Getzlaf in Game 6 of that series. But they should be able to do more than that to earn an NHL paycheck, and it's time for the league to do something about it before someone gets killed.

(Stats provided by ESPN.com.)

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