NHL Must Legislate “Honor”

Honor “Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.” (Dictionary.com)

A few days ago, my colleague here at Hockey Independent, The View From 111, posted a well written and thought provoking piece called “NHL:  No Honor League?” It is an intelligent, solid piece of writing and I respect his opinion. BUT, I think he is infected with the same utopian NHL virus that once afflicted me. The message of the article seems to be that Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s Czar of Player Discipline…err…Director of Player Safety is taking too much heat for his “perceived” inconsistent punishment that he has handed out. The article reads, “That anger is misdirected. Instead, fans should look to the ice and the type of play that teams are bringing to their games.”  My thoughts on the situation are slightly contrary.

With the recent, well publicized…err…promoted, on-ice hooliganism, many hockey fans and “experts”alike are crying out, “There is no honor among players in the NHL anymore.” The fact of the matter is, they are absolutely, 100% correct; there is no honor in the NHL or any other professional sports league, for that matter. What they are wrong about is “anymore.” The notion of “honor” among players, coaches and organizations is a misguided, romantic assumption that existed only in the minds of the idealistic hockey/sports admirer. I too, once fancied the idea of a principled warrior who played the game with honor and integrity. I too, was once pitifully misled and hopelessly sentimental about the NHL game and its gladiators.

How ridiculously pathetic of me. Honor and respect are ignorant concepts in the professional arena. The piles of money, prestige and accolades that are bestowed upon a Stanley Cup lifter are too much for any human being to ignore. The whispers of temptation can be heard farther than the loudest call of duty.

The national Hockey League is a professional sports league. The singular goal of every franchise and all its employees is absolute. WIN. And win, no matter what it takes. Win, no matter what the consequences. Win, no matter who or what ideals you have to crush to get to the top.

All NHL players always have and always will play on the edge and blur the lines of legality. Many will step over that line when the crime is deemed worthy of the punishment. To expect the players to honor and respect each other of their own free will is like asking Tim Thomas to honor and respect his teammates and the Bruins organization by visiting the White House…It ain’t gonna happen.

Lack of honor is seen in all sports with Bountygate, and Spygate being recent examples. It has been hiding in the shadows all along. We, the fans have been purposely insulated from it. That is until the social media revolution exploded all over us. Funny, I can remember relying on a reporter or radio announcer’s subjective account of NHL games. (Thank you Budd Lynch, Bruce Martyn and Joe Falls.) Disrespect among players was the norm in the NHL of the past, whether it came from a Hall of Famer or a so-called goon, but the cowardly keyboard warrior with a team biased, brainwashed “opinion” hadn’t crawled out of their mothers basement yet. One can only imagine the ruckus that would have blown up Twitter after Mr. Hockey’s retaliatory dismemberment of Lou Fontinato’s olfactory nerves.

It has been well documented by players of the past that Bobby Clarke, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay were no different than Dave Schultz, Ken Linseman, Claude Lemieux and Wayne Cashman:  All were “dirty” players that did ANYTHING to win.

The points being that we cannot expect the players to find respect and honor in a game that never really had it. The NHL and the Office of Player Safety (cough, cough) must develop a no brainer, no opinion needed punishment guideline. If head shots are the problem, the only way to solve it is to ban them…no questions asked. Perceived intent and severity of injury should have no relevance in any punishment. There should be a specific amount of games the player is suspended for, should he make contact with the head,,,period. It isn’t equitable or responsible to give any man or group of men the godlike powers to make punishment policy, especially ex-players who will suffer accusations of bias.

Honor:  “A fictional concept as related to professional sports.” (WB Philp)

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About the Author: WB Philp is a published hockey writer who has a built in disdain for Barry Melrose. He covered the Detroit sports teams for many years until he came to his senses and moved to the Sunshine State. He is a true puckhead on a mission from God (Gordie Howe) to make hockey relevant in the south. He lives in Hockey Bay USA and covers the Lightning full time. Did I mention he hates Barry Melrose?

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  1. Great points, and perhaps my view of the players as “honorable” is utopian or romanticized. I think we see enough examples of players performing honorably to believe that trait still exists. I may be wrong. I hope not.

  2. WB Philp says:

    Thanks! I’m afraid I’m too jaded at this point to hold on to hope.

  3. John Saquella says:

    In the past, honor was something “legislated”…by enforcers on the ice. Back in the 1970′s, 80′ or early 90′s a player like Torres or Kaleta would have to answer for his antics by fighting.

    The NHL, with the institution of the instigator and it’s uneven application has removed from the players’ hands the ability to effectively police the game. It would be great if the refs and league could be relied upon to cover for that missing element, but they have not.

    • WB Philp says:

      Terrific point John. Unfortunately, because of all the NHL meddling, I don’t think we can go back now.

    • Jon Pynn says:

      I’ve heard that sooo many times, and I really don’t buy it. the only difference between today and yesterday is player size and speed, those things increase probability of injury.

  4. Joe B says:

    Bill you hit the nail on the head. Do you guys remember watching 1970′s and 1980′s hockey? There was no honor among players. The game was a lot more violent and reckless than what we watch now. The biggest difference IS social media. With the way NHL games were shown on TV (getting to see only your local team) most of us didn’t to get to actually SEE the NHL at its best like we do now. If something controversial happened, you read about it I the paper or maybe, on the rare occasion, actually see it on your local news. Today with the instant access we have with every single game, you see it as it happens or shortly after, which artificially inflates the controversy.

    If the NHL wants to actually be serious about protecting its players, they cannot expect the players to police themselves. They weren’t able to in the past, and they can’t today.

  5. WB Philp says:

    Thanks Joe. Even if one believes that the players did “police” themselves in the pre-social media era, we can never go back. Looking forward, the NHL has no choice but to move forward with some sort of standard discipline for head shots. Asking someone to “judge” an incident and rule on punishment is simply ineffective and ignorant.

  6. psmoker43 says:

    I believe it’s an equally romanticized notion to believe that every player in the 70s, 80s and 90s answered the bell and always fought to “answer for his antics.” Instead, just like the modern game, the players who refused to fight back then suffered the same cheap shots and potentially career-ending injuries that today’s players do, the difference is that the passage of time has tainted our perspective and allowed slome to believe that there was honor among thieves back then when in fact there was none.