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Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Hits Keep Coming...Let it stay that way!

So much has been made this year of all the injuries caused by some hard hits this year.  The debate has already been aired and the new rules have been laid down.  But I still think it's worth talking about because we're in the playoffs.  As any hockey fan knows, things get kicked up a notch or five in the playoffs and that includes the hitting.  And hitting has been a part of the game since day one.  That's right, when the soldiers on that frozen lake in Kingston, Ontario 150 years ago recreated the game they learned from the Natives, they figured out that one of the best ways to get the puck away from somebody was to separate their body from it.  Literally.  No reason it should change now.

Those that have been paying attention know what I'm talking about--the guys that have been getting hurt because of (sometimes) questionable hits.  And yeah I'll admit that one of our guys, Ovechkin, has been caught up in it too, but maybe too much so.  Look, I'm not just some Caps fan crying foul at too many suspensions.  All I'm saying is there have been punishable hits that went unpunished, and there are those that were punished that were nothing more than clean hits that are part of the game.



Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard comes to mind as the obvious example of the former.  We've all seen how he laid out Savard, clearly targeting his head and leading with the elbow.  I'm still amazed that neither an on-ice penalty nor an off-ice suspension was applied.  What's even more ridiculous is that Cooke's history, which is far more extensive than Ovechkin's, wasn't even taken into consideration when the play was reviewed by Colin Campbell's office.  Conversely, Ovechkin was issued a two-game suspension for his hit on Brian Campbell for that very reason--because of his history.

The best example of a hit that was clean, and also went unpunished was the Andy Sutton hit on Jordan Leopold in the Ottawa-Pittsburgh first round series this year.  It was, as the Versus commentators mentioned, clearly a "North-South" hit.  What this means for some of you hearing of this phrase for the first time is, Sutton did not come from behind or from the side to hit Leopold.  Rather, he approached Leopold head-on and within his line of vision.  What made the impact worse was the fact that Leopold happened to have his head down at the time, something you never do when in open ice, or ever for that matter.  Not saying Leopold got what he deserved, but rather sometimes things like this happen and you have to do what you can to protect yourself, if not at least by being aware.

Now what I'd like to see dealt with more harshly is the knee-on-knee hits.  There's no way you can defend yourself against these.  Before anyone says anything yes I know OV got nailed with a kneeing call this year too. And rightly so.  I happen to know a little something about this--you mess up your knee, there's a pretty good chance you never walk again.  So a hit like that, you not only risk ending a career, you alter someone's life for the worse; possibly forever.  I've seen careers ended and interrupted because of hits like that, you never want to see it. With something like that it may be warranted to give a suspension that equals 20 games or the length of the injury, whichever is the shortest.  That might make someone think twice before leading with a knee.

I realize that with the "fast-tracking" of the new rule regarding this kind of hit, we're coming to a reexamination of  what we can do to protect the players.  No one, save for a few sickos, wants to see anybody get hurt as a result of a play like this.  But I for one don't want to see the nature of the game changed because of this either.  Nobody talks about all the times players happen to get up after a big hit--it's not a big deal.  Yes, it's important to protect the players, but not at the expense of the game.  Is it worth punishing one group of players for having a particular skill in favor of everyone else?  I think not.

I bring this up because of a concern for my favorite player.  After his last suspension of the season, it seemed to take OV a while to get back in the swing of things.  Personally, I think his hit on Campbell affected him more than he let on.  I truly believe he had no intent to injure him, but ended up doing so anyway.  And so, in either an attempt to stay on Colin Campbell's good side, or because he may have gotten a case of  "Oh my gosh, I better slow down before I kill somebody," type of remorse, his play seemed, well, watered down.  It's a valid explanation as to what took him so long to get kick started in this year's playoffs.  Not to make excuses for the man, but his play just seemed different, like his mind wasn't totally in it.

This and other reasons add up.  I don't want the league and the Competition Committee to overreach when it comes to this rule.  There's got to be a way to protect both the players and the integrity of the game.  What would make the most sense is to make an example out of the worst offenders; those being the ones that go out of their way to hurt people.  Thus far, the NHL has done a so-so job in applying this new standard.  Like all experiments, we're just going to have to wait for the end result.  I just hope it doesn't totally change the game for the worse.




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