Another day and again we await another episode of our favourite new program, Shanny TV. This time over the Brendan Smith hit on Ben Smith in Wednesday night’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Opinion was divided instantly on Twitter, with people polarizing themselves instantly either falling on the side of “dirty head shot” or “gotta keep your head up when you cut to the middle like that, kid.”
My opinion nudges closer to the former, but then I carry with me a crazy belief that hockey is a dangerous game played at incredibly high speeds where you willingly allow opposing players to hit you, so it’s more important than ever to ensure you don’t place yourself in potentially harmful situations.
Also, I don’t do the “torches at the castle gate, send out the monster” bit very well.
Having said that, like many of you I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why every night this league morphs into NHL/CSI as we pour over video after video of questionable hits, all the while feigning outrage at what the sport has become.
And we hear it from player after player too.
How can this keep happening game after game if everyone knows this is what we’re trying to get out of it?
Interesting question and one that same player won’t ask when it’s his bull that does the goring. Then we’ll hear mutterings about “intent”, and “accident” and “we don’t like to see stretchers but it’s a physical sport” come out of that same player’s mouth.
Look, someone on the Blackhawks this year will get caught drilling a guy and I’m pretty sure the vitriol we heard last night from both players, fans and some Hawks media members (one writer called Brendan Smith a “dumbass Red Wing” for the hit. Ouch!) will be somewhat toned down.
So before we look at solutions – and I’m not one of the “nerf-the-world” set who believe that suspensions will take care of everything – we need to look at what’s causing this dilemma the league finds itself in. Because at this point Brendan Shanahan will be so ridiculously busy I’d hope the NHL would build him a home studio to shoot his videos.
To me it comes down to two possibilities:
The game is too fast to be safe.
The game is going through a growing pain, the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of the sport.
I’m not sure which side I’m on but I do think we NEED to ask ourselves both of these questions and answer honestly, regardless of the answers they produce.
To the first point: The game is too fast to be safe.
At a certain speed everything becomes too fast for its own good. We see this not only in sports, but life in general. Speed shrinks every margin for error and turns contact into collisions. It’s like billiard balls hitting each other out there, folks. Before, a player had at least a second or two to make a decision with the puck and brace himself for a hit, now it’s a split second and BAM.
The answer to this problem is an uncomfortable one since just about everyone agrees speed is one of, and for many, THE MOST attractive element in the game.
This is the unforeseen outcome of opening up the game. No more interference means fly-zone NHL and I don’t remember anyone coming out of the lockout saying “all this new found speed and room the players now enjoy is going to lead to a laundry list of concussions while disciplinarians hand out suspensions like Pez.”
Hey, how many times have you had the best intentions only to watch a plan blow up as you mutter to yourself “well, I didn’t expect THAT to happen”? Well, that’s what happened with the opening up of the sport.
The game got faster.
The game got more exciting.
And the game got more dangerous than ever, that’s the reality.
Now, if we believe speed is the problem and I think it’s the biggest one, we must ask ourselves: do we have the desire to slow the game down and allow hooking and holding to return through the neutral zone along with basketball-style picks from the dots for defensemen?
The genie is out of the bottle. Do you have an appetite to try to put him back?
Please ask yourself this honestly.
Do you believe the league should slow it down and return to the area where players moved from blueline to blueline like a sherpa with 200 pounds on his back? Or should velocity be allowed to flourish unfettered even though it is producing a nightly body count? We keep hearing about how highly skilled the players are now, don’t we? Yet the damage continues.
Speed or safety.
You can’t have it both ways…
That is unless you believe this second point is correct.
The game is going through a growing pain.
I remember coming out of the lockout when the new rules package was introduced and the standard of officiating was tightened (specifically to eliminate hooking and holding which allowed players to fly at speeds that would make even Pavel Bure blush); confusion ruled the day. The pros essentially had to re-learn the game almost from scratch, which is why two surprise teams (Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers) made it to the Stanley Cup finals and the Rocket Richard Trophy was won by someone (Jonathan Cheechoo) who has only managed to score 77 NHL goals since 2005-06. But it was part of the growing pain.
At that time the consensus was that we wouldn’t see how the “new rules” would develop the game probably until the John Tavares draft group turned pro. We were a couple of years off but nonetheless, here we are now with a combination of young players who have grown up with the new standard and also a group of veterans who were able to adapt midstream in their careers.
And that’s where the game is at now. Everybody knows the rules, everybody can play at this top speed but still there is another Shanny video just about every day. And the hue and cry remains the same: “why is this happening?”
Maybe this is still part of the process of changing the game. And while on the one hand it’s inspiring to watch players perform at this level, there is still a toll the game leaves on most that play it.
If we’re committed to staying the course (and most are) I think we need to ask realistically how much carnage are we willing to accept in order to get to this magical hockey place where the game is played at a blazing tempo and played safely.
And there it is… Take your pick.