13 December 2006

Gil Stein: still a tool

Lost in history except amongst us hockey nerds, Gil Stein was NHL President for the shortest of times: post-Ziegler and pre-Bettman. 1992-1993. I'm not invoking his name because of his attempt to somehow get himself into the Hall of Fame (which worked, albeit briefly, until investigation uncovered the fact that he got in through shady tactics, not to mention the fact that he didn't really do enough to actually QUALIFY).

Nor will I allow him to be pilloried for forcing through the expansion of the NHL to Florida and Anaheim, strictly based on ownership...for today, at least (I'll attack you for that another day, you bastard).

Instead, he was the architect of the "instigator penalty" that I finally have come around to realizing is a huge blight on the NHL. There's no way for players to police themselves on the ice and thus no repercussions for on-ice transgressions. Take the most recent example, of Alexander Ovechkin hitting Daniel Briere from behind:

I'm not going to rip Ovechkin specifically here, although I did and do think the hit was a cheap shot. Even though it's not ok, it is done by many players - who otherwise may play dirty or not. But in this specific case Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair both got instigator penalties (as well as a shitload of additional PIMs) and game misconducts for essentially sticking up for their teammate Briere.

Ovechkin barely felt a ripple of punishment unless you count the fact that he was thrown out of the game. If he had delivered this hit at the 18 minute mark of the third period, he'd essentially have missed no time. Oh yeah, he was also fined $100.00.

Why is the instigator penalty even there? Presumably to prevent the type of brawls that were such a stain on the league in the 70s and 80s (but that we all reminisce about, of course), and to if not eliminate fighting then to curtail it severely.

Violence and serious injury are up in the NHL over the past decade - yeah, yeah, you can point to specific instances in the past where serious injuries occurred but how much garbage stickwork goes on today compared to say, 20 or 30 years ago? And how much punishment is there for errant sticks that carve up an opponent's face? Four minutes in the box? If players - especially those not wanting to drop the gloves - knew that waving their blades in the air carelessly was going to bring a rain of hellfire upon them in the form of about four or five guys in opposing sweaters he might be a little more careful with the stick.

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Don Cherry may have been right all along about helmets and face shields actually encouraging worse behaviour on the ice.

I'll admit to being somewhat of a fighting hypocrite - I've never been a fan of fighting, or at least I've always pretended to be anti-fighting. But upon reflection the spontaneous brawl that occurs as a result of honest on-ice emotion is something that few fans don't love - me included. Ironically the instigator penalty is a deterrent to those types of fights but the idiotic staged side-show fights that feature the rarified goon (Laraque, Peters, Ivanans, etc.) can happen at anytime and - in my opinion - have jack shit to do with the game. I can't stand those freak-shows - I heard Barry Melrose discussing fighters the other day and he said "a good fighter never gets mad" - which to me is idiotic (but I still do like Melrose). I disagree with the momentum theory, in that a staged fight gets you back in the game - it might get the crowd back in the game, but I fail to see any evidence whatsoever that a team suddenly "gets it" following a toe-to-toe battle between competing 230-lb knuckledraggers from Wawa, Ontario (no offence to the good folks on Lake Gitche Gumee).

A return to bench-clearing brawls is not what I'm looking for, but sensible punishment and a return to letting players do more honest on-ice policing. By eliminating the instigator penalty you may have more fights, but I'm also betting that you'll ironically eventually have less serious injuries.

No comments: