Lack of Action Leaves NHL Administrators With Mess on Their Hands

Lack of Action Leaves NHL Administrators With Mess on Their HandsThe gray area of NHL enforcement seems to have expanded exponentially in the days since Colin Campbell cleared Matt Cooke of any wrongdoing when Cooke blindsided and targeted the head of Marc Savard.

Refs are letting stuff run with the wind in one period, then suddenly tightening down the storm sail and sending the entire crew below decks a few minutes later. 

Players are left guessing, sometimes from the dressing room after banishment.

What looked to be a minor infraction from Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams turned into a game misconduct. About a dozen opinions we’ve heard firsthand from active players and coaches who saw Alex Ovechkin’s shove on Brian Campbell didn’t think it merited a game misconduct, but now Ovechkin is serving his second two-game suspension of the season.

Speaking of two-game suspensions, Matt Cooke (and his two bans in the last 14 months for head hits) comes to Boston on Thursday.

The old-school way would have been to exact (or extract) a tooth for a tooth. But since Campbell himself may be at the game Thursday with the NHL’s equivalent of an electron microscope directed at everything the Bruins do, the B’s had better make sure they don’t even exhale bad breath at the Penguins.

"Number 17, Boston. Two minutes for halitosis and a game misconduct."

Was I over the top, too strong verbally when I was lathered and blathering during a talk show about the what-if of appropriate revenge when I said that you’d have to take nine teeth out of Sidney Crosby’s face to get someone’s attention rather than going after Cooke? Yes. My bad. Was I attempting to sell tickets or to incite a riot at TD Garden on Thursday? No. I’m sorry for rigging the lights for that sideshow. Consider this a formal apology (one I already have extended to Crosby through the Pittsburgh organization).

I don’t want Crosby hurt. He is the most exciting, most complete, and best leader-by-example player in the NHL. He puts people in the seats and on couches in front of TVs. He is, indirectly, helping me pay to put my son through college.

No one who has seen Sidney Crosby play would want him carried off the ice on a stretcher. OK, I guess we’ll have to make an exception in Steve Downie’s case.

For the Bruins to injure Crosby in response to the Cooke/Savard incident would be a beastly message-sending tactic. To see it attempted, though, shouldn’t shock anyone who has watched the NHL’s teams try to stand up for themselves when they perceive that the league (either refs in the games or administrators after the games) is not standing up for them.

And that’s where the recently expanding cloud bank has created a gray area that is pushing the game backward.

At this writing, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning is leading the NHL in power-play goals. He and Martin St. Louis (outspoken that Cooke should have been suspended) are keeping the Bolts’ playoff hopes alive. Here’s the video of what happened right after Stamkos got drilled, legally, in the game against (ahem) Pittsburgh the other night:

Now, do you think Downie did what he did because some play-by-play guy got loquacious on a talk show? To recall one of John McEnroe’s greatest rants, "You have got to be kidding me!"

It sure looks as if it’s a cheap-shot hit by a cheap-shot player, answering a hit on Stamkos with a chop job on Crosby. Instantaneous, disproportionate revenge. It's beyond nasty. It’s bad for the game.

But that’s the poisonous environment out there. Ugly, unpalatable, hard to sell to the masses, a sure fire-starter on any talk show.

The chance that a Downie-like "run" at Crosby will happen Thursday is quite low, most of all, because the Bruins do not employ players who have the deep character flaws of a guy who seeks out an unsuspecting opponent in order to hit him from behind.

But that doesn’t mean the Bruins are palsy-walsy with the way they have been treated. The NHL abandoned the Bruins in their hour of need. Colin Campbell went through some astounding gyrations to exonerate Matt Cooke. Those contortions came at the expense of justice for Marc Savard and the Bruins.

So in the wake of a ridiculous non-decision decision, unsteady enforcement has sucked out a discipline vacuum that nature abhors. Felons are filling it — shady players who hide in the cracks of the anti-fighting rules. Running around an NHL rink near you: scum that used to get scraped out by policemen now classified as "instigators."

NHL administrators have spouted for a long time that players don’t respect each other. It’s the opinion here that the vast majority of NHL players do respect each other. 

The problem right now is that they may not respect the job being done by NHL administrators.

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