Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Take on Legislating Head Shots

Okay, about the Liambas, Kassian and Cormier hits.

All of these hits are pretty awful in my opinion. (Actually, I'm going to say a blanket "IMO" right now that I intend to cover the rest of this post.) I can see no legal hockey purpose to any of them. Cormier just got suspended for the rest of the regular season (18 games IIRC) and his Q team's playoffs. Kassian got 20 games. Liambas got what amounts to a lifetime suspension out of junior.

Now, that's clearly hyperbole, but still...hard to argue that it wasn't a strong reaction to what, to my eye, is a less-egregious hit than either the Cormier or the Kassian hits.

Kassian's victim, Matt Kennedy was concussed on the hit, and it was not his first, but he is apparently back on the ice. Cormier's victim, Mikael Tam is not in hospital though it is not known what, if any, lingering effects of the hit he will feel (reportedly he does not remember the incident - thank goodness.)

Now, if you dig a little deeper, in all three cases the offending player has a history of at least questionable plays. Liambas had the affrontery to hit John Tavares from behind last March, but his rap sheet is long as you peruse YouTube. Same for Kassian. And Cormier - the captain of the Canadian WJC team that lost to the US on Canadian soil a couple weeks ago - had elbowed a Swedish player in a WJC tune up game not long ago. Same exact infraction!

So, I know players have to finish their checks. I also know players at the junior level are trying to get to the next level, and going 100% all the time is part of that. I also know that violence is a part of the game of hockey. Yeah, I said it. It is. Hockey people that try to pretend that it's not are kidding themselves. It is. Deal with it.

But, and I realize I'm walking a fine line here, there are some things that are so egregious that they must be met with a harsh penalty.

Now, I feel like the penalties meted out in each of these instances were pretty harsh. I am not calling for harsher penalties against Liambas, Kassian or Cormier. Certainly in the context of other suspensions for similar acts, these are pretty severe penalties.

I want to talk about the idea of how to legislate this kind of thing out of the game.

First, I'm not sure you CAN, much less that I want to. If I'm going to accept that violence is a part of the game then the threat of this kind of thing is a by-product of that threat. I can't have my cake and eat it too, in other words.

And, if violence IS a part of the game, then I don't know that you could reverse-engineer hockey players and take away the gene that makes them walk that fine line, on occasion.

Lou Lamoriello, in reacting to the Cormier elbow (he's Devil's property) said (among other things) that this incident wasn't indicative of the Cormier THEY knew. Bullshit, Lou. How many elbows to heads does it take? If you want to protect your investment, fine. But don't treat us like jerks with that kind of horse crap. I'm sure Jeffrey Dahmer was a nice, quiet neighbor....most of the time. But the point here is that Lou didn't exactly throw Cormier to the wolves on this. No, he didn't condone what he did, but he didn't even issue a veiled "you better clean it up if you ever want to make it to the show, kid" line in his prepared statement. So, trying to legislate this kind of play out of the game seems to me to be a fruitless endeavor on the face of it.

So what does that leave us with, since crossing the line - though an inevitable occurance in a game in which violence is an innate trait - still can not be tolerated?

Well, for one, it's got to start at the NHL level. If the league to which all these players aspire allows this kind of thing, how can the junior leagues ever hope to curb it?

I don't think I want to go down the path of a bunch of smaller suspensions for a la carte infractions. Feet came off the ice? One game. Contact with the head? One game. Player's back facing you at impact? Two games. Second offense? Multiply a la carte total by 1.5.

No, I think that turns into a nightmare for the game from an optics standpoint ("7 out of 23 players on Team X's active roster were suspended for last night's game...") and, yes, that's assuming you could get all the various league disciplinarians to agree to and then enforce the standards.

Plus, I just don't think three games in the context of a season or career sends any kind of message.

Here's my latest idea.

My college was an "open" campus. You could drink, even underage, openly throughout campus. Basically the thinking was, look, you're in college. If you want to drink, we know you're going to figure out a way to do it regardless of what we do. Furthermore, we'd rather not have you have to drive off campus somewhere to get your drink on, then either drive around some more or at least have to drive back to campus, your drink having been gotten on.

So we're going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Go ahead and drink. But you have to conduct yourself in a manner befitting someone enjoying arguably more responsibility in this way than they deserve. If you can keep yourself under control, Campus Security - who will be wandering around, checking in on parties and such, consistent with their job - will not give you a hard time. Really. But, if you step out of line, we're going to bust you. Big time.

And you know what? It worked?

I drank a fair piece in college. Right in front of campus security. Walked around campus with a beer in my hand (and a load on in my belly/head) often. But I didn't get in any fights, break any windows, vandalize any property, or throw any elbows along the way. I had the ability to walk the line, and I did, and I didn't cross it. And whether it was more that I was given the freedom to walk the line (and, to choose whether or not to cross it) or that the consequence for crossing it was significant in my mind that kept me from crossing the line, the fact is I - and the vast, vast, vast majority of my collegiate peers - didn't.

So, I'm proposing that they first define the line in regards to excessively violent acts. Allow for "hockey plays," "incidental contact" and even the hittee exacerbating the incident with his own actions. But define a line. These things are okay, THESE things are not. Give me a break, most of these hits no one in his right mind is going to watch on video and say "whaddaya mean! That's a clean hit!" This shouldn't be that hard to do.

Then, if a player commits such an act, instead of getting one or two games the first time out, they get 20 games (based on a NHL 82-game schedule.) Flat fee, done. No more of this slap on the wrist stuff. Take a page from the junior leagues and hit the player hard enough that they notice. And make it so the team still has to carry the cap hit while the player is suspended. Second offense? 30 games. The stick Colin Campbell wields now clearly just isn't scary enough. Colie's gotta wield a nastier stick.

In the meantime, if that player's team is able to fill his role with someone else while he's suspended, maybe that player is looking for work the next season. And maybe, just maybe players will start to see that kind of play as A) getting you in the really hot water and B) potentially career threatening. And maybe that gets them to think twice.

As for guys like Cormier, I'm sorry, but fool me once, eh? There's no gray area on an elbow like either of the two he threw. They weren't protective, or trying to create space, or even get at the puck. These were just dirty plays. I'm all for second chances, but Cormier's already used his up, it would seem. Lamoriello placing you under his protection (pun intended?) notwithstanding, Patrice Cormier, you get labeled as a "dirty" player in my book.

Up to you to prove me wrong, meat.


EDIT: Saw this article linked in the NYT Slap Shot Blog. Good piece.

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