In the early days of this site, I wrote often about rampant, violent head shots and dirty hits polluting the NHL. I might even go as far as to say that this plague is what gave birth to this blog, as twitter just wasn’t enough to get it all out. Since then, not much has changed. There are still multiple dirty hits on a seemingly weekly basis, and the NHL isn’t doing much about it, regardless of what they say.
This past weekend, another matchup with the Pens and Bruins led to ugly mayhem. If I were Brendan Shanahan, I’d be cracking my knuckles and getting limbered up to swing a big axe. Shawn Thornton of course, would pay dearly for this heinous assault from behind on Brooks Orpik. Thornton did this because, in his mind, he had to get Orpik for laying out Loui Eriksson with a thunderous, and possibly questionable hit. Orpik refused to fight Thornton – and why should he? Thornton is just one small step above being totally useless, and Orpik is a valuable defenseman to the Penguins. Later in the period, Thornton, refusing to take no for an answer decided to swoop in from behind on Orpik during a scrum, horse-collar him to the ice, and then pound his defenseless face. For a guy who considers himself loyal to hockey’s “unwritten code” (whatever that is), that attack on Orpik is without doubt against everything the vague, undefined code stands for.
Part of the reason for hockey’s reluctance to change is that there are plenty of wacky people who say that if Orpik had just fought Thornton from the beginning, he wouldn’t have been rendered unconscious at all. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Drop the gloves and leave the game for 5 minutes (or more) for doing something that you’re paid to do. “The code”, ladies and gentlemen! The notion that a player needs to fight if he throws his weight around is outdated at best, and outright stupidity at worst. The hockey establishment is in a constant state of worry that today’s “progressive” fan wants to turn hockey in to a “panzified” non-contact sport. The NHL and NHLPA seem to be afraid of this too, but someone needs to tell them that they are the ones who will do away with hitting since every time there’s a big hit (by “big” I am talking about those hits that are considered “hockey plays”), there’s a scrum and ensuing revenge fight. The crackdown on bare-knuckle fighting is coming to the NHL, whether the league, player’s association or fans like it or not.
In my mind, a premeditated attack at an unsuspecting player’s head, and then continuing the assault once he’s down and out carries a suspension of at least 25 games, and probably more. The excuse that Thornton lost control of his competitive emotions is utterly silly. It’s even sillier to suggest that he was trying to do his job within the confines of “the code”, which Thornton knows he violated, otherwise he wouldn’t be so apologetic. An apology, by the way, doesn’t, or shouldn’t lessen the severity of the discipline, either.
The great thing about an unwritten code is that since it’s not actually documented anywhere, anyone can put whatever they want in to it depending on what suits their agenda, and depending on which way the wind is blowing. How’s that for carte blanche? No other sport on the planet would tolerate this, and in no other sport would he play another game this season. But the NHL being what it is (i.e. meek and cowardly when it comes to player discipline), I don’t think he’ll get any more than 8-10 games. Get your “Brendan Shanahan and the NHL is a joke” tweets ready now because I’m sure whatever Shanny does just won’t suffice, unless you happen to be a Bruins fan, in which case it will be way overboard.