Friday, November 20, 2009

One suspension, one not

Two videos for your viewing pleasure. The first resulted in a two-game suspension for Dallas' James Neal. The second resulted in no games missed for Colorado's Ryan Wilson.

Neal's hit:


Survey says: What the eff? How did Wilson escape suspension when he clearly targeted the head of Edmonton's Ethan Moreau and even left his feet to deliver the hit? It's another one of those "head shots" that the NHL claims to want to get rid of, yet Wilson receives no discipline.

The best part is the Colorado announcers glorifying the hit. At the very end of the above video, they seem to start discussing whether it's a head shot, so maybe they backed down a little. It's hard to tell.

As for the Neal hit, I find it a little difficult to judge. When I saw it initially, I thought, "Absolutely suspend him." From another angle, it seemed to me to not entirely be a check from behind, kind of half behind and half from the side. Given the collision, I figured Neal would get one or two games, and two is what he got. As Bob McKenzie pointed out, you see that type of hit a lot in the game. In this particular instance, Derek Dorsett's head slammed into the glass. The suspension probably came from that as much as anything.

When I saw the Wilson hit though, I felt a little more outraged. There was no need for Wilson to target Moreau's head. Delivering a shoulder into Moreau's chest would've achieved the desired effect. Wilson hit a player in the head, and the player didn't have his head down; once again, Wilson clearly lifted up in order to deliver the blow.

The question is, does this fall on Gary Bettman's shoulders or Colin Campbell's? I guess you can say it's both; presumably Bettman hired Campbell to be the Discipline Czar. Well, both are incompetent, and both clearly lie through their teeth when they say they want to get rid of head shots.

The NHL is such a joke in many ways and this week has been very bad for PR, with the officiating foul-ups - there was another in the Toronto-Carolina game Thursday when the puck was in the net and the referee was BEHIND the net but not looking IN the net when he blew his whistle - and the questionable hits that receive no suspension.

If you ask me, the bigger problem is the inconsistency with disciplining players for violent hits like Wilson's. Bad calls are going to be made in every game, every night. They will continue to happen whether humans or robots make the calls. Does that make it right? No, but no one is being physically hurt.

When you get players like Wilson targeting the heads of others and getting away with it, or Mike Richards on David Booth, who still isn't close to playing hockey after a recent setback, then you endanger the lives of the league's workforce. What will it take before the NHL starts protecting its players? Is it going to take a player's death from an on-ice hit before league officials say, "Oh, we might want to do something about that"?

Which brings up another point. I don't know why exactly the league determined Neal should be suspended, but if it was because of the injury suffered to Dorsett, that again raises the question of why Richards got away clean after Booth left a bloody mess on the ice after being hit.

There's a lot of talk these days about the shoulderpads the players wear and how they are like "missiles" when delivered in a check. OK, fine, fix those. Next, start throwing the book at these players for their violent hits. No more slaps on the wrist.

Wait. I'll take a slap on the wrist first. Let's do baby steps. Right now, these players aren't even receiving that much discipline. So let's start with slaps on the wrist, rather than a verbal chastising - if they're even receiving that - and then let's bring out the big guns. Which, in NHL terms, is a one- or two-game suspension.

Next, players: Come on. I know you've got that whole players association mess to work out, but where's the respect for each other? Aren't you taught as children not to hit a player when you see his numbers? Would you like to be on the receiving end of someone's elbow or shoulder to your head? If not, why do you target others in such a manner?

It's a threefold problem when it comes to nasty hits like this: The league's woeful discipline, the players' tougher equipment, and the players' lack of respect for each other. Unfortunately, none of it seems like it'll be fixed soon. Maybe the equipment.

But until all three things are resolved, expect more hits like Wilson's, Richards', or Neal's.

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