ARLINGTON, Va. With the all-out melees taking place in the Penguins-Flyers playoff series and Phoenix's Raffi Torres once again attempting to knock out opponents with illegal, devastating hits, its natural for those around hockey to wonder whats going on.
Nine suspensions during the first eight days of the playoffs is certainly an eye-opening number after there were seven suspensions during the entirety of last springs Stanley Cup playoffs. Boston fans will remember Vancouvers Aaron Rome got hit with one after knocking out Nathan Horton.
Some are quick to blame NHL sheriff Brendan Shanahan for slapping Shea Weber on the wrist when he slammed Henrik Zetterbergs head into the boards like he was George "The Animal" Steele using a turnbuckle. There may be some truth there as it appears Shanahan and the Player Safety Department have been ruling with an iron fist since then, attempting to get all the NHL rodents back in line in hockeys version of Watership Down.
A bevy of recent suspensions and 26 penalties called in Wednesday nights Penguins-Flyers game is signaling that the officials have decided its time to seize back control of these games.
But Claude Julien had a different take when asked about the subject on Wednesday, and referenced a tweet from hockey agent Allan Walsh, who wondered aloud:
This has spiraled from out of control to total chaos. Do we really need a player to die on the ice for this insanity to stop?
Walsh later clarified that hes always maintained players are responsible for on-ice acts, and that cant be debated.
But the NHLPA is a group that can affect change by working with the league to scale back the hard, plastic shoulder pads and allow the NHL to more significantly hit the wallets of players that habitually go over the line.
Thats where the frustration comes in for the Bruins coach, who has long maintained that scaling back on equipment and increasing respect for fellow players in vulnerable positions are two areas that have deteriorated since his playing days.
I read something about an agent, it was Allan Walsh made a comment about that player safety stuff, said Julien, but theyre the ones that are representing these players. These players are all apart of the NHL Players Association and the fact is, I can tell you right now, and Ill say it again, theres not a coach in this league, not one, that is going to tell his players to target somebodys head.
Concussions are a serious and sensitive thing and I think we all respect that, so anybody who thinks otherwise is totally wrong. Somewhere along the line everybodys got to try and educate the players to be a little bit more careful thats what we keep trying to do. Theres not a game in this world that is faster than ours right now.
"Its always easy to criticize but its sometimes tough to make those split-second decisions. Sometimes it will happen and the guys knows and he regrets it and he apologizes and hes sincere, but the damage is done. Somehow were all trying to figure out a way to minimize that. Instead of criticizing and attacking that we should all be working together in order to make it better. I think if coaches, players, general managers, the organizations and the league if we all work together including the PA thats the best way to resolve it.
Julien mentioned one of the other key factors in the uptick in hockey injuries: the sheer speed of the game. Hockey did a wonderful thing when they detonated the red line and outlawed obstruction to increase game speed and promote offensive hockey, but the side effect is 6-foot-3, 230-pound bodies slamming into unsuspecting opponents with monster-truck force.
The players on the ice bear the biggest responsibility for making player safety an important goal on everybodys mind, but there are things that every corner of the NHL world media included can do to help a wonderful game avoid the debilitating concussions and brutal injuries that have already marred this years postseason.
Its not about getting rid of line brawls or nasty post-whistle scrums that have been a part of playoff hockey since the very beginning of pucks on the frozen sheet. The Penguins-Flyers series, in most respects, is exactly whats great about Stanley Cup playoff hockey, and the spiked ratings for NBC and interest among casual hockey fans speaks loudly to that.
If the league were to shrug their shoulders and slink away from that kind of passionate play, theyd be making a colossal mistake.
Its about changing a game thats been taken over by the hockey predators lying in the weeds and waiting to send another player out on a stretcher, as Torres did once again on Tuesday night.
Phoenix's general manager stood up for Torres' hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa by saying the certified head-hunter was being treated like he murdered a busload of school children.
No, Torres is being treated like hes the poster boy for whats wrong in the NHL. Hes being treated exactly as he should be -- he was suspended for indefinitely for his hit.
The NHL needs to continue sending out messages after malicious plays like Torres'. And everyone should acknowledge that those plays need to be eliminated from the game for the good of the game, starting with Torres and the rest of the Coyotes.