This past Monday, NHL head disciplinarian Colin Campbell warned the 16 NHL general managers whose teams are in the playoffs that harsh punishment would come down on any pregame shenanigans during warmups. The warning said that should an incident take place, the offending team could lose a roster spot on the night the incident takes place, meaning the disciplined team would be forced to play the game with 17 skaters and two goalies. Campbell also said that goalie interference would not be tolerated.
But apparently, less than a month after the “Savard Rule” was instituted, the NHL is already moving on to enforcing less important rules that have nothing to do with the safety of the players.
During the second period of Game 1 of the Bruins-Sabres Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers — a candidate for the Calder Trophy — drilled Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk with an elbow to the head. It was exactly the type of hit the league said it wanted to clamp down on with this new rule, but yet, here we are in the playoffs, when there is even more spotlight on the game, and the Boston Herald is reporting that there won’t be any discipline for Myers.
“I didn’t see him coming, I didn’t have the puck and I felt like it was a shot to the head, I guess,” Boychuk told the media, per CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty. “Then they called it the freakin’ hit of the night in the arena with the fans going crazy. He was coming right at my head. [He hit] me right on the side of the jaw. I guess they’re letting that go now. I expected a physical game no matter what. It is playoffs and everybody is going hard and putting everything on the line because they want to win the Cup.”
Boychuk’s point regarding the HSBC Arena JumboTron replaying the hit to the fans’ amusement is exactly what’s wrong with the NHL and proves the league to be hypocritical. Every NHL arena spotlights these types of hits on the video boards, and they’re followed by cheers from the fans. There’s no blame on the fans here, but how can the NHL still allow such hits to be promoted in its arenas when it promised to rid the game of them? Instead, the league believes a little pregame trash-talking will tarnish its image more?
But what if Boychuk had been being carried off on a stretcher, much like his teammate Marc Savard was back on March 7? What would happen then? Well, if history were to repeat itself, nothing would happen to Myers, and the league would simply make more false promises. That’s exactly what has happened here, minus the promises.
“They can go back, but I don’t know if they would. It would be nice if they do, because that’s the same thing that happened to our player,” Boychuk said, referencing the Matt Cooke hit on Savard. “It’s part of the game: hitting. I’m OK.”
But what if Boychuk wasn’t OK? The league would have another PR mess on its hands — a much bigger mess than if some Bruins and Sabres players did some trash-talking and had a pregame skirmish.
“That’s what the rule is in place for,” Mark Recchi said. “I saw it pretty good and he took a shot to the face. [League officials are] supposed to [review the play], but they won’t.”
Instead, the NHL has moved on to focus on other trivial rules while the safety of the players — the main product — goes unprotected. Just as we said here when the rule against blindside hits and head shots was voted in, it will take time to rid the game of such hits, because the officials must change the culture of the NHL.
It just doesn’t help when the powers that be choose not to enforce the rule and instead promote the current culture with highlight videos.