Greg Wyshnyski, the editor and major writer of Y!’s Puck Daddy blog wrote a piece this morning on Don Cherry and asked the question should the flamboyant one join the charge against head shots in the league and drop his “old time hockey” mantra. Greg answers his own question “no“, but for different reasons than I will. To begin Cherry advocates that the lack of fear in the NHL, fear commingled with absent respect between players is the reason “cheap shots” as Cherry would call them, occur.
Take [Mike] Richards, if he knew Probert was sitting on the bench and McSorley was sitting on the bench and something was going to happen, he wouldn’t have hit [Florida's David Booth] like that in the first place.
Cherry would have you believe that the play of Richards would have been different it he had known some form of repercussion was coming. I agree with that statement. However Cherry wants it to come from the other players on the ice, like a Marty McSorely, Dave Semenko, Bob Probert, or Colton Orr. I’d like it to come from Colin Campbell, the NHL Vice President in charge of discipline. A Toronto neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Tator, recently called out Don Cherry as having a counter productive sway on the game.
“He’s a negative influence,” Dr. Charles Tator told CBC News in reference to Cherry... “The aggressive, lack-of-respect hockey that he preaches — we need to get that out of the game.”
I couldn’t agree more. Dr. Tator is right that Cherry is a negative influence. He advocates for player on player violence and policing. Dr. Tator is trying to lead a program to reduce head shots in the league and would like Cherry on his side. That’s not going to happen. Don Cherry is who he is and he is convinced that the Instigator Rule is the reason that there are so many bad hits or ‘cheap shots’ occurring in the NHL right now. That’s where I part Don and I drastically part ways.
NHL Rule 56 – An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.
The Instigator Rule is a big reason why players do not come after other players with anywhere near the frequency and violence that they did when I watched hockey growing up, and that’s a good thing. Joe Yerdon of Gross Misconduct Hockey wrote an article on the dying goon breed after Dan Carcillo’s cheap shot during a “fight” with Matt Bradley of the Capitals. The reason there was such egregious uproar over Carcillo’s actions was because of the decreasing level of goon violence in hockey, making the thick headed Carcillo one the last bastions of a dinosaur playing style hockey. The Instigator Rule is only one part of the puzzle though. Goons know that they will serve in the box or more likely receive suspension, fine or some combination of all three for retaliatory or dirty conduct. The problem is the people laying the dirty hits feel no such pressure.
Richards, Alexander Ovechkin and yes to a much lesser extent Evgeni Malkin play an aggressive style of hockey. Richards took out Booth earlier this year and saw no sanction from the league. It took Ovechkin getting ejected twice in three games for the league to hand him a measly two-game sit down while he nursed a sore knee from a knee-on-knee hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason. Malkin should have been sat by rule for his run at Henrik Zetterberg in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. I said it at the time and I’ll still say that the rules change in the playoffs and Malkin’s star status are the reasons ratings won out over rules at the time. The NHL wasn’t about to sit the soon to be Conn Smythe winner. They need to be willing to and they need to set that tone during the regular season.
Until the NHL wants to get serious about consistency in the application of its automatic suspensions and discipline from Colin Campbell and treats all players equally while evaluating them for sanction, things will continue the way they are now. As long as the top/notable players on a team feel no pressure to rethink their conduct towards their fellow players, Cherry is right, “cheap shots’ will continue to occur. His solution however, is antiquated. We do not need to see a return to the old ways of hockey that saw countless goons maintained on a roster to protect top line talent. That sends to wrong message to young players and it also likely stagnates the fan base of the league. As the NHL tries to draw in more and more new fans they need to do it by producing an open, loose, non-Devils product on the ice. Sure that is counter intuitive to my above statement of suspending your stars, but it sure beats the alternative of a goon eventually killing another player on ice. That’s exactly what will happen if we allow a generation of players in better shape, who are faster, and wield deadlier equipment police themselves as they did 25 years ago.
About the Author: Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL Hockey Blogger, Father, Husband, IT Geek, former player, and NHL 11 EASHL addict. Oz has been cited for his work on XM Radio's NHL Home Ice, Penguins HD Radio, and Y!'s Puck Daddy Blog. Email: email@example.com Twitter.com/ozman51 Xbox: ozman51