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.
Monday, April 19, 2010
OMG! WTF! Oh no! Not again, San Jose!
I’ve seen a lot of hockey games. A lot more than is probably healthy; and I’ve never seen a game end like this:
For those of you who might not be able to see the video, that is Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle- presumably trying to wrap the puck back around the boards- backhanded the puck past Evgeni Nabokov who probably wasn’t expecting a puck on net which explains why he wasn’t tight to the post. There was some suggestion that the Avs’ Ryan O’Reilly caused a deflection, but from my vantage point it went clean in. In any case, it’s a monumental error by Boyle and yet another bad bounce for the Sharks, who lost Game 1 on a similar play.
If this isn’t proof that the San Jose Sharks are cursed, I don’t know what is. Usually, after a game you can analyze it and there’s a reason why Team A lost even after dominating so thoroughly- they didn’t create traffic, their passing plays were too simplistic, the shots they put on net weren’t too difficult, etc.- but watching Game 3, there’s nothing I can say about the Sharks that caused them to lose (outside of Colorado Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson, who literally stood on his head in stopping 51 shots for the shutout, 12 shy of the playoff record 63 by Patrick Roy back in 1996). San Jose created traffic in front of the net, they shot from all kinds of angles, they created plays that bemused the Avalanche defenders, won all the puck battles, ran clinics at keeping the puck in the Avalanche zone and created a plethora of difficult saves; and they don’t even win the game.
It’s tough not to feel for the Sharks at this point. It seems like every April at this time we’re talking about yet another San Jose Sharks meltdown in the playoffs, and, though this series is far from over, there’s nothing that suggests the Sharks are capable of turning things around. The Avalanche have been, well, an avalanche, utilizing their superior foot-speed to create pressure and not allow the Sharks to move into their plays as they had all season long. San Jose did look like they figured out a way to defeat Colorado in using their superior size as well as keeping the Avs in front of them, but they can’t seem to find an answer for Anderson and you have to wonder if a team as fragile as the Sharks are can overcome a confidence-sucker like Boyle’s own goal. Plus, you have to think the Avalanche will be smarter with the puck for Game 4 than they were tonight, because the turnovers and the penalties forced Anderson to make 51 saves in the first place.
What’s becoming clear is that it just may be time to end the Joe Thornton Show in San Jose. Dig a little deeper in this series and you’ll see that the Sharks’ supposed on-ice leader hasn’t nearly made the impact in this series as was hoped. Neither has his partner in crime, Patrick Marleau, who’s been shuttled around the lines to little effect. It leads me to believe that, should the Sharks actually lose the series, Thornton- at the very least- should be gone and replaced with a proper leader. A loss would also spell the end for Nabokov, an unrestricted free agent, though I think he’s not really to blame for the Sharks’ ills in this post-season. Thornton showed while with Team Canada that he can be a productive player when he’s not asked to be the leader of the team so logic dictates that he should move to a team where he doesn’t have to be the team leader. The problem is, I’m not sure which team he would best fit in, because there’s very few players who are better than he is. The only scenario I can think of is the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he can take the place of Evgeni Malkin, a Conn Smythe winner and proven leader (in order to do the deal I picture the Sharks including Logan Couture, their top prospect, due to Thornton’s seven year age gap with Malkin). It sounds plausible on paper, but it’s iffy at best if Pittsburgh would go for it- after all, having Malkin and Sidney Crosby long term is the more favourable proposition, and the Penguins need faster bodies, not slower ones. Still, Thornton would be able to fit behind Crosby in Pittsburgh’s pecking order and the Sharks finally get themselves a leader. I wrote once before that the Thornton trade may have been a mistake, and now it’s looking more and more like that is the case.
Hopefully, like I said last year, the Sharks can pull themselves out of this mess because their fanbase- which, from day one has been one of the NHL’s best success stories and overwhelmingly the only real “Southern” franchise to be a success- deserves a proven winner and not a team that teases with its potential. However, episodes like today and last season do little to quell those fears and the call for major changes is only going to get louder and louder. San Jose has the chance to make all those murmurs moot, but they’ve got to take this chance and prove the Avalanche won’t upset them like the Anaheim Ducks did last year or the Dallas Stars did two years ago. The puck is in their end- it’s up to them to make good use of it.
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