Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hossa runs Hamhuis- will the NHL muck it up again? *UPDATED*

The talking point of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs- easily becoming “The Year of Too Many Men on the Ice”- has been the standard of officiating or lack thereof (quelle suprise. When is it not the topic?). It should come as no surprise that we already have a case of a questionable hit:

The above hit came from earlier today, when the Chicago Blackhawks came back to win 5-4 in overtime over the Nashville Predators to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 series lead. The immediate reaction of NBC’s Pierre McGuire was to declare loudly (figuratively and literally) that it was a dirty play, and unquestionably Marian Hossa’s hit on Dan Hamhuis will be reviewed. Predator fans will also likely wonder why Hossa- who scored the overtime winner upon stepping out of the box- wasn’t ejected from the game. Those same fans- as well as Washington Capital fans looking for any reason to contend the NHL are conspiring against them- wouldn’t be remiss to bring up this play, which is very similar:

If you recall correctly, Alexander Ovechkin received a two game suspension for his hit on Brian Campbell, who came back today from that injury after more than a month off. Now, you can debate the severity of both plays- Hamhuis didn’t miss any significant time, unlike Campbell- but you can’t deny that the plays are similar, and logic would call that they should be penalized similarly.

If history is any indication, though, NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell (or “Collie” as TSN’s Bob McKenzie so affectionately calls him) will find a reason not to suspend Hossa (who’s too valuable to the Blackhawks at this time) and rationalize it’s not the same play as the Ovechkin hit. He’ll either reference some obscure section of the rulebook like Section 69, Subsection XXX that says “if a player simply gives another player a wimpy shove into the boards instead of being a man and squaring him up with his shoulders, there shall be no suspension imposed”; or coming up with some convoluted explanation such as “Hossa was really trying to stop himself and didn’t mean for his hands to extend into Hamhuis unlike Ovechkin who really did push Campbell”; but it’ll just be a ruse so that Campbell doesn’t have to apply the standard the same way in this case.

Fortunately, Hamhuis wasn’t seriously injured, but that shouldn’t have any bearing on what happens to Hossa. The action is still dangerous and should be something the NHL would want to get out of the game, which it won’t do if it continues its trend of “random punishments”. That is at the heart of the matter, because if rules are haphazardly applied, it’s as if they’re not applied at all. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again- the lack of standards has meant the ice is not policed by the people who should be policing it (the referees and the Commissioner) so, in turn, the players feel they have to “police themselves”. You already know how well that turns out.

So this becomes a call- come on, NHL, do the right thing and suspend Hossa for Game 6 (since a playoff game equals two games). It won’t completely repair your credibility but it will at least be a step towards rebuilding it. We as fans have had a hard time putting our trust in the credibility of NHL officiating- let us know there’s still some hope left. Otherwise, we’ll leave you hoping for us to return.

*UPDATE* As I thought, the NHL chose not to suspend Hossa. Predictably the key reason was because Hamhuis wasn't injured on the play, because the rest of Campbell's reasons were the same reasons offered in defence of Ovechkin's earlier hit (well, there was also the "Hossa is not a repeat offender" argument but on a play like this, it shouldn't matter, especially when Hossa wasn't ejected). Can't say I'm surprised, just disappointed- as ESPN's Scott Burnside said, leave it to the NHL to treat the incidents "as if they were on different planets". Seriously, is there a league more random than the NHL with its punishments? No wonder they can't control the players.



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