I’m sure by now everyone has seen the Matt Niskanen hit on Sidney Crosby that has probably ended his Stanley Cup participation. What I find fascinating is the mixed reviews on whether the hit was dirty or as the experts are saying, “a Hockey play.” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle is in that camp, but I wonder if he didn’t have skin in the game would he have the same view? The Rangers have no issue either and interestingly they are still in the playoff tournament. Caps coach Barry Trotz obviously can’t understand the fuss with the body contact. Keep in mind this is the same guy who wanted Nazim Kadri charged with the Kennedy assassination after the hip on hip body check to Ovechkin the previous series; especially after the embarrassingly academy award fake injury performance by number eight.
You have to keep in mind the talking heads have to be careful not to upset the NHL (Bettman) being to critical of the league, particularly the officials or they may see a schedule of Arizona Coyote and New Jersey Devil games as their lineup next year. Ask Ron McLean what it cost him for questioning the leagues Lord and Master about the stability of the leagues weak franchises.
Niskanen and Crosby have history as far back as 2010 when he played with Dallas; Crosby rag dolled and punched him out during one of their scuffles. Early in this series Niskanen well after the play crosschecked Crosby in a defenseless position from behind. Last game he ran Crosby into the goal post following a great setup to Phil Kessel who had just buried the puck behind Holtby.
Ovechkin is another beaut that at 6’3, 240 lbs rarely hits a player head on unless the opponent is in a vulnerable position. His stick slashes to Crosby’s head (from behind) lead to Sid falling unable to protect himself. Niskanen was lining him up regardless, but instead crosschecked Crosby in the head. Was it intentional, cowardly and gutless? Damn straight it was!
Calgary Flames defenseman Denis Wideman received a 20 game suspension for a reaction hit on an official and now being sued by Don Henderson, the linesman in question. Niskanen was staring Crosby dead on, so it was no surprise reaction.
The problem the NHL has is they want to limit fighting but without it, this is the type of cowardly behaviour it’s producing. Players have to be responsible and accountable for their actions with or without the puck. The stick work in the playoffs is probably at an all time high, showing no signs of easing. The conundrum facing the NHL is how to deal with this without creating a double standard for certain players. It’s funny how Oshie’s called non-high stick against Bonino last game was the reversal of last year’s playoff when Oshie feigned a high stick to the face with you guessed it, Bonino the offender. Coincidence? Karma? Payback?
I want to be clear that the NHL playoffs are the most competitive and elite level of play in all professional sports. For further confirmation (if you can stomach it) observe the Raptors pathetic level of compete against a team they tied for in wins during the regular season. The NHL playoff games move into overdrive as each win mounts and the referees allow the players to play the game. Fair enough.
All we fans and players are asking is consistency in the way games are officiated. It’s because of this reason players take more liberties with the whistle away and they don’t have to answer for their actions to another player.
The Penguins wouldn’t need to go far to instill some higher level of compete in the lineup than looking no further than behind the bench. Assistant coach Rick Tocchet a member of the 1992 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburg Penguins was a rugged no nonsense type of player who scored 440 goals over 18 seasons. He could also handle things pretty well with his fists if it was required. Can you imagine if they had Tocchet throw that number 92 Pens jersey over his head for the playoff run? Let’s just say they’d have a better chance of finding Malaysian Airlines flight 370 or Jimmy Hoffa before they’d spot Niskanen or Ovechkin. And Washington energy guy Tom Wilson taking liberties with unsuspecting players, running all over the ice, the only running around he’d be doing is running the Zamboni around his old rink North Toronto.
The point everyone misses about past rugged forwards like Tocchet, Bob Probert, Cam Neely, Marty McSorley, Clark Gillies, Curt Fraser and Brian Sutter to mention a few, was not only that they could fight but they were real good players.
They kept the game honest and that’s what’s missing today; so let’s give the experts the benefit of the doubt when they call a dirty play a “Hockey Play” they really meant to say “Play Hockey.”