The Cohen Chronicles: Fighting the Good Fight
Does the name “Pekka Rinne” ring a bell? Didn’t think so. What about “Shea Weber”?
Yes, of course you know who Shea Weber is. The Nashville Predators captain has become a household name after grabbing Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and smashing his head into the glass in the closing seconds of Game 1 of the teams’ first-round playoff series. The incident earned Weber a $2500 fine.
Yes, that’s right. Weber didn’t even miss a single game for this dirty hit. Yet Weber’s incident was just one of many in a month that has put the National Hockey League in the news for reasons that have nothing to do with the games.
Take a look at some numbers from the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series. The goal totals were obscene—Philly put up eight goals in both Games 2 and 3, Pittsburgh responded with a 10-spot in Game 4, and the series-clinching game was a 5-1 Flyers victory. But the penalty minutes were even more remarkable. Game 3 had 158 combined penalty minutes, including six fighting majors and seven 10-minute misconducts. In all, there were enough altercations in the game to fill up a four-minute-plus YouTube video. (Game 4 featured a comparatively tame 100 penalty minutes, 64 of which were assessed to the Flyers.)
Never mind that Game 3 gave the Flyers a 3-0 lead over a team many considered the Stanley Cup favorites, a team that posted 108 points in the regular season—just one fewer than the top seed in the East, the New York Rangers. Forget about the sheer absurdity of a 10-3 game. The bulk of the coverage of this series focused squarely on what happened after the whistle, which I’m sure is exactly what the NHL wanted.
Why aren’t we hearing about Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ star goaltender who posted a .944 save percentage—stopping 151 of 160 shots—as the Predators took down the Red Wings in five games for just the second playoff series victory in team history? Why has the St. Louis Blues’ first playoff series victory in 10 years received only token coverage? Instead of hearing about how the Florida Panthers are on the verge of their first playoff series win since 1997—against none other than Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils—we’re treated to a comparison of game misconduct penalties, 11 of which were called in the first week of this year’s playoffs, compared to seven all of last year.
To be fair, part of this is beyond the NHL’s control. Emotions are high in the playoffs, and there are inevitably going to be post-whistle scrums, cheap hits, and the occasional Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist, and a fight). But by taking a harder line against player misconduct, the league can ensure it is little more than a blip on the radar, rather than a playoffs-defining epidemic.
Instead of doling out fines that amount to pocket change, punish players where it hurts—ice time. $2500 fines won’t get players to change their behavior, but multi-game suspensions will. The league took a major step forward in this regard with its suspension of Phoenix Coyotes agitator Raffi Torres for 25 games following an open-ice hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa that required Hossa to be taken off the ice on a stretcher.
If you take a look at that hit, you’ll see how brutal it is. You’ll also notice the absence of a whistle after Hossa is leveled. And therein lies the other issue. At the very least, Torres should have been given a major for contact to the head and game misconduct. It probably should have been a match penalty. However, Torres did not receive so much as a minor penalty for his transgression.
Officials aren’t perfect, and given the speed of the game, it is inevitable that they will miss a call on occasion. That said, it is unfathomable that they would not penalize a player who leaves his skates for a hit, especially given the league’s stated emphasis on hits to the head. The on-ice officials play just as large a role as the league office in limiting the widespread mayhem in this year’s playoffs, and whether the NHL needs to hire more competent officials or simply restate its points of emphasis, it cannot afford to be complacent with the zebras.
The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins, are headed to Game 7 against the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals, and theirs may not be the only seven-game series in the East. Let’s hope the coverage of future such goings-on actually concerns the games.