Monday, January 26, 2009

No-Show Punishment

Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk from the Detroit Red Wings will not play against Columbus on Tuesday when the NHL fires back up after the All-Star game. They won’t play because both will be suspended for 1 game. They have been suspended because they did not attend the NHL All-Star festivities in Montreal. Neither is supposedly injured but both are banged up. The NHL made this unprecedented move to try and stop players from taking a pass simply because they don’t feel like going or have something better to do.

For the NHL I understand the concern. The game is a showcase to the fans of all the best and most popular players in the game. Maybe the more important part is the schmoozing with corporate sponsors at a time when they are hugely important. Like the rest of the global economy, the NHL’s revenues will be dropping simply because some corporate sponsors won’t be able to justify the expense or indeed some corporations may no longer exist. So making sure the NHL’s relationship with sponsors is strong, is very, very important to both the league and the players.

The players association is in a difficult situation because while they are partners in the business and it is important, they are also required to represent the player’s wishes and will. Some players just don’t want to go to the All-Star game. They have bumps and bruises, injuries and in some cases just don’t want to go because some feel they have done enough, others just believe the event is lame and don’t want to be bothered.

In the case of Sydney Crosby I have nothing but applause. Could not play but came to play with the sponsors and fans. The very best have a higher level of responsibility and he seems to get that and always finds a way to step up and help out.

In the case of Datsyuk, he has taken a pass on NHL awards dinners, All-Star games and other NHL functions. It appears he wants to play his game and cash his cheques and that’s it. I have a problem with that. Those cheques are as big as they are because of the NHL and its relationship with sponsors, TV networks and most importantly fans. The “I don’t feel like it” excuse is shameful.

In the case of Nick Lidstrom, he has done it all for this league. Won every award, won cups, the Norris, been to 11 All-Star games, World Cup, the Olympics and this weekend just wanted to see his son play in a hockey tournament. I have no problem with that.

This is the problem. How do you develop a one-size-fits-all policy which punishes players like Datsyuk who live by the “take but don’t give” motto, while allowing players like Lidstrom a pass because he has years and years of doing more than his fair share to grow this game.

I don’t have the answer, but I do know the way the NHL dealt with this seemed knee jerk and not completely thought out. Maybe they can deal with it in some kind of financial way since that is what seems to impact players the most. Maybe if you want to take a pass and you are not injured you have to make a half million dollar donation to an All-Star charity based in the city where the game is being played. Its easy to suggest but difficult to implement since anything like that would have to be a part of the CBA.

If the players and owners are now partners in this thing, that has to mean you are partners when its time to give not just when its time to take. There are many more givers than takers in this game thankfully, but finding a system that punishes one without persecuting the other is difficult.

See you at the rink.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thumbs up for Jarkko

Jarkko Ruutu has been suspended for 2 games for allegedly biting the thumb of Buffalo’s Andrew Peters. If he really did bite him then I understand the leagues need to suspend him. You can’t have players biting each other. I get that. I personally think he did bite him and I would have done exactly the same.

I am not applauding Jarkko Ruutu and his actions but I thought about what I would do in the same situation. Ruutu did not go hunting on the ice looking for someone to chomp into. The two men were tied up and Peters jammed his thumb into Ruutu’s mouth. Watch the video closely. That thumb didn’t get into that mouth by accident. This is the logic I don’t understand. A player can intentionally jam his thumb into one players mouth and try to rip his cheek, but biting that thumb goes against the code of hockey?

What is the code of hockey now? I really don’t know. I know what it used to be and I know it’s not nearly the same anymore, but I really don’t know what the code is anymore.

In this same game Chris Kelly was put in a head lock and his head jammed into the boards by Drew Stafford. It is unclear whether he was injured by his head being stuffed into the boards or a cross check to the head from Craig Rivet. Either way Kelly’s eye is swollen shut today and the train track stitches in his head are no act. This play was not penalized and was certainly not reviewed by the league. It apparently falls into the code of acceptability. The tiny piece of broken skin on the end of Andrew Peters finger is obviously a far more egregious offence. Apparently because it offends the sense of “Code” that all players live by.

That code did nothing for Patrice Bergeron in Boston last year when Randy Jones from Philly nearly ended his life with a hit from behind. That hit just barely stirred the keepers of the code. That death defying hit warranted just a 3 game suspension. So let me get this straight. You can almost kill a man and that’s worth just 1 more game suspension than biting the thumb of a man who intentionally jammed his opposable digit into the mouth of the biter?

I don’t get the code anymore. I don’t get the logic of those who defend the code and the men who punish those who break this ever changing code.

Jarkko Ruutu deserves to be suspended. So does Andrew Peters if for no other reason than the stupidity of jamming your thumb in someone’s mouth, trying to rip their cheek open and then being appalled that you were bitten.

In the end does anyone really care? A pest bit a goon. Peters has injured that thumb worse tying his skates. No, this suspension is about the code. I just wish I knew where I could buy a copy of it so I could read up on this. I am heading to Chapters right now and I am going straight to the Comedy Section.

See you at the rink.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I wish I had the answers.

I am like every fan right now in that I wish I had the answers. There isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t stop me in the grocery store or at the gas pump and ask what is wrong with the Senators. I wish I had an answer. The one thing that makes me feel better about this personally is the fact that many many very smart hockey people don’t have an answer either. I am only a play by play guy and thus me not having an answer is not a surprise. The fact that actual hockey experts can’t figure it out either is a testament to how confounding this situation is.

I think everyone knew that this team would not be the high flying, high scoring Senators of old where they could seemingly score 6, 7 or 8 goals a night if they wanted to. I don’t believe anyone thought they would be the lowest scoring team in the NHL though. In Boston they appear to have about 5 or 6 players who are on pace to have their best seasons ever. It is indeed good fortune when those stars align at the same time and Boston’s record is all the better for it. Conversely what are the odds that 5 of Ottawa’s best offensive players would have their worst season’s ever at the same time. The odds are probably the same except a franchise and its fans feel the pain more when those hockey odds are working against you and your team.

The only thing I know is that you can only do one thing. Keep on playing. Keep trying to find some magic again. Keep on pushing the players to find their top level. There is no magic wand. There is no easy way out. Trades in this league are now nearly impossible to make and GM Bryan Murray will soon have an ear replacement with his current one nearly worn off from working the phones. Changes in the on-ice system are not the issue. Craig Hartsburg has tried every line combination and every fore-check system known to man. Nope, it appears this is a problem that must be solved from within using the oldest method in the books. Perseverance!

I wish I had a better answer. I wish I could figure out a better way. If I was a smarter guy maybe I could see one.
Last January after the Detroit game the switch on this team somehow got mysteriously got turned off. Maybe it will somehow get mysteriously switched back on if there is enough perseverance.

Sorry….wish I had the answers.

See you at the Rink.