Suit’s post yesterday was spot on about the need for grit, not goons, on this Rangers team. Though the Rangers need grit, the goons have been out in full force this past weekend in the NHL. For as long as I can remember being a fan, the debate of banning fighting has been around, but that’s not what we’ve seen this past weekend; we’ve seen extremely dangerous and unsportsmanlike hits. Let’s take a look at three of them, and what potential suspensions may arise.
James Neal knees Brad Marchand – Saturday, 12/7, Pens vs Bruins
This case is pretty ugly. Marchand is tripped and laying on the ice with his head up when Neal skates towards the puck and, en route, ensures that his knee makes direct contact with Marchand’s head. I’m not sure what’s most offensive about this play – that he kneed Marchand while he was down in the head, or that he skated off like it was no big deal. The fact that Marchand is a pesky player who routinely gets under the opposing teams skin is never an excuse to make such an abusive play. Neal had his hearing yesterday and was given a 5 game suspension, in part due to the lack of injury from the play, and also in part due to his history (Neal has been fined once and suspended once in the past 3 seasons). This was only a small part of a rough game, which saw 40 minutes of penalty time, including a game misconduct on the next play in this series…
Shawn Thornton assaults Brooks Orpik – Saturday, 12/7, Pens vs Bruins
Well, okay. If this happened off the ice, Brooks Orpik could press charges. To quote one of my favorites, that’s assault brotha’. You just can’t do this. A little background: Orpik, in the first minute of the game, had a questionable open ice hit against Loui Eriksson which resulted in an injury. He declined fighting Thornton immediately, which caused Thornton to sit in the box for 2 minutes to think about the roughing he had done. Now let’s fast forward to the Marchand incident, just 10 minutes later. Obviously upset with the play on Marchand, the players gather while the trainers tend to Marchand. Thornton skates behind Orpik, slew foots him down to the ice and punches him in the face repeatedly. Again, Orpik is a player that some may deem dirty or who doesn’t play fair, but an eye for an eye won’t really work here. Orpik is then stretchered off the ice to the hospital. Let’s make something very clear: there is absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior, in hockey or in life. Thornton will have an in-person hearing with Shanahan today, and I would make a guess that he’ll get 10 games, given the fact that Orpik has been placed on the IR and the unbelievably aggressive nature of the attack.
Dion Phaneuf boards Kevin Miller – Sunday, 12/8 – Bruins vs Leafs
Phaneuf, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the last 2+ minutes of a game that they were losing badly, sees Miller after a scrum around the boards for a puck and flat out shoves his face into the boards. I don’t really know what point he was trying to get across – a message? Letting off some stress? Generally being an unpleasant person? Everything about this hit upsets me. For starters, Miller was losing footing near the puck, and Clarkson was in the vicinity trying to make the play. Secondly, not only does Phaneuf speed up to hit him directly between the numbers, as Miller is slipping up he lowers his arm to smash Miller’s face into the boards. How this was not a penalty is so far beyond me. Phaneuf has his hearing today at 10am, which should be interesting since he’s never been suspended. I think he has to get 3 games, regardless of history or penalty call.
These plays bring about a lot of questions. Should injury sustained be a deciding factor in suspension? We’ve seen this recently (the Neal video alludes to the fact that Marchand did not sustain an injury in its decision making) as well as years ago with the Department of Player Safety induction (remember Hagelin elbowing Alfredsson in the 2011-2012 playoffs vs. Ottawa? Alfie missed a game, Hagelin missed 3 and the hashtag #FreeHags was created). But what if teams sit their players now after a questionable hit to make the punishment worse?
Former Rangers and nonstop thorn in the side of former Rangers management Sean Avery tweeted out this gem Sunday, which alludes to the fact that Orpik got what he deserved. With a record like Orpik’s of being a dirty player, it’s hard to argue that a certain style of play begets that same treatment; however is that what hockey has come to? Who’s to say that now Thornton shouldn’t be playing with his head up on a swivel every game because of his cheap shots?
Of the plays, it’s easy to say that Thornton’s was the most outrageously violent. I would argue that Phaneuf’s is one to be most concerned about, as it is a play that we see too often and we’ve seen end careers too often as well. Though the fighting debate may never end, we absolutely have to see a stop to these filthy plays that taint the sport and take away from player safety and fan enjoyment.