Thursday, March 18, 2010

Standing Up For Your Teammates

The Post-Olympic Syndrome of head shots and controversial hits in the game of hockey these days kind of make me sad. On Thursday night, Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks managed to tag Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks with a questionable hit and then was hit himself by Perry's teammate, James Wisniewski, in retaliation of the initial hit.

The way I saw it initially was that Perry got rocked pretty good with no penalty call, the play managed to continue with the puck staying in the Blackhawks defensive zone where the hit took place, and there was a charging call of a hit laid down to retaliate.

First of all, I don't think Wisniewski is in the wrong for wanting to take care of business, helping to police the situation on the ice, especially if the officials are not going to do it themselves. In a real time situation on the ice, I would have to imagine that the play looked pretty dirty from every angle conceivable, except for maybe the angles that the officials had on the play.

Without any justification from the officials, the fans and media are left to guess and speculate as to what happened on the ice there. I think this is one of the bigger issues at hand for the NHL, but really, everyone loves to have their guess and criticize based on that guess, that it really doesn't seem to be much of an issue in the end.

Sorry, I veered off a little bit there. A lot of the fights that happen after "clean hits" are easy to judge when we have the ability to replay it over and over again, while a lot of the players don't have that luxury and with the speed of the game the way it is, I would have to think that some of these players have to guess as to whether or not to stand up for their fallen teammates. This is really the reason why I'm okay with fights after clean hits, because I'm not sure if I'm able to judge the play when I'm concentrating on the play itself on the ice. So, saying that hits in real time on the ice are likely incredibly hard to judge and when a guy like Wisniewski sees Perry on the ice after a questionable hit, we probably shouldn't be surprised when he decides to hunt down Seabrook, either from comments from the bench or his own justification.

Now, the justification for the hit itself is very questionable, which leads to all sorts of different questions that are not likely asked of the players involved. My first question to Wisniewski would be something along the lines of "does the instigator penalty run through your mind when charging after Seabrook like you did?"

If Wisniewski was to have dropped his gloves and started to pummel Seabrook for his hit, he would have received a 2-minute minor for instigating, 5 minutes for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Instead, he received a 2-minute minor for charging, which was the correct call on the play and then was credited with a fight with Duncan Keith, without any misconduct penalty. Wisniewski also had to step-up and defend himself again near the end of the game, but at least he was around to do so, which he may not have had the option to do, which would have been at the discretion of the referees on the ice.

In some recent quotes, which have been echoed many times since the integration of the instigator rule in hockey, it's being blamed for some of these controversial incidents that involve headshots these days. I honestly believe that this is another one of those incidents, which may have been avoided if the instigator rule was dropped. A lot of the headhunting, like what Seabrook (in my opinion) was doing to Perry would have been avoided if there was players that could police themselves and patrol the ice on a regular basis. Furthermore, I would think that if Wisniewski could have solved the matter by dropping the gloves and starting to pummel Seabrook without fear of an extra 10-minute misconduct (or possibly a game misconduct), we wouldn't have seen the decision to charge at Seabrook, thus causing a high hit.

I don't know how much more you can say about this, its really becoming quite tiresome. I couldn't honestly say if this new headshot rule is going to solve anything, because there is still going to be a lot of players taking exception to all sorts of different hits out there, but in my mind, I'll side with the players that are defending their guys and standing up for them.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Blind Side

Ahhh yes, the head shot debate rages on in all of its glorious forms today. All thanks to Matt Cooke and his crushing blow on Marc Savard on the weekend, which has now left Savard's season in doubt. Now, I've attached the video below to try and have a review of what actually happened, in order to encapsulate the whole issue.

PhotobucketIt's a pretty brutal looking video, without a doubt, but I would like to go back on my look at how suspensions are governed to also kick start the point.

The first point, which I believe is a very important jumping off point, is the player in question a first time or repeat offender? This is important, from how I read how suspensions are levied is that a player in question will get less benefit of the doubt and a more severe penalty for his action, solely on the basis that he's been there before. In Cooke's case, according to his player bio here, he's been suspended three times in the past. Okay, so this doesn't look good on him to start and it's taken into account.

Secondly, the circumstance of the hockey play beforehand. There was nothing to suggest that this hit was in relation to another clean check or payback for another incident in the game, it was in a tight, competitive one-goal hockey game with under six minutes to go in the game, where everyone should still be playing hard and to win.

Next, the incident's relation to an actual hockey play. In this case, I believe its safe to deem this play as finishing an open-ice check on a player that has gotten rid of the puck by passing or shooting. In this case, there is very little time in between Savard letting go of the puck and Cooke hitting him, so it can't be deemed a 'late hit' and these sort of hits happen all the time, so it's definitely not a rare hockey play that hasn't been governed on much before.

The incident in question comes into play next, as we try to look at what happened. As you can see from the first picture, Savard has just let go of the puck and Cooke is about to hit him in the open-ice. Cooke's arm is down and his shoulder is poised ready for a hit not unlike a normal one. The extenuating circumstance of this hit from Savard's standpoint is that he is not expecting the body contact to come, because Cooke was not in his field of vision when taking the shot, but in the open ice, players are going to come from all 360 degrees and when a player is backing himself up with all that ice surrounding him, he cannot be 100% sure as to what is coming from all 360 degrees.

PhotobucketFor argument's sake, Cooke is listed at 5'11" and Savard is 5'10" standing up, but in taking the shot from Cooke, his head would have been lower, which I think is a valid point in the argument. If Savard's head is down around the height of Cooke's shoulder, then it's hard to govern at break-neck speeds (sorry for the terminology) where a player is going to make contact with a player in a split second. Cooke committed to the hit once the puck was going into the direction of Savard, which is legal from the interference standpoint, and only hit Savard after he had possession of the puck, which is still legal. Cooke skated through Savard without lifting his elbow, so contact wasn't make with the joint in his arm with Savard's head intentionally and the play was deemed to be a good check on the ice, no penalty was called.

The fifth and final point, which will carry a good portion of the weight, amplified by point number one, is the result of the play in question, which in this case is Marc Savard's likely severe concussion. This will likely have the biggest impact on the decision of Cooke's supplementary discipline, because he rocked Savard, for a lack of a better term. In the three middle points, there really wasn't enough there to warrant a suspension, but in the case of a major head injury, some extra consideration is going to be laid down in this decision.

Combining points number one and five, I can easily say that four games will come down on Matt Cooke and that's fair from the perspective on he's been here before and it was a huge hit. Without a doubt though, Marc Savard took his safety for granted coming over the blueline on a rush, skating backwards and not acknowledging that Cooke, who is a very physical player, is on the ice.

Without question, its a horrible thing when a player becomes injured for a substantial length of time, but at what point does the game decides to change itself vastly to curb long-term injuries? If this hit was deemed legal by the letter of the law on the ice and if it was a player with no priors on his record hitting Savard, there would be a good chance that this play would have gone unpunished and the debate would centre around whether or not these open-ice hits should be legal, from a player who is or isn't expecting it at all.

It may not be "right" to blame Marc Savard for allowing himself to be blindsided, but in this case, awareness is half the battle. It's a very fast game and mistakes are going to be made. Some result in the player making the mistake getting hurt and others in a player hurting another with a mistake in judgment. In a physical sport, the line of questioning has to start from a better point than singling out a certain incident and making it right. If you try and fix one incident from the standpoint that its the know-all and end-all of incidents, you will find that you are wrong and you've likely affected the rest of the game in some way, which was likely not your intention in the first place.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trade Deadline Day 2010

I am up ridiculously early today, just in anticipation of an interesting NHL Trade Deadline Day. Not only for the league, but I have this strange feeling that the Canucks will be a part of the whole scheme, especially after a few of these years where there has been some posturing for future moves.

Nevertheless, I love the deadline for all the interesting news and transactions that set-up the stretch run of the regular season up and we can really start separating the teams who want to be in and figure they're out (the buyers and sellers), making predictions at how the rest of the season will come to pass and then get ourselves ready (especially if our team is in the playoffs) for a long playoff run into June.

Being a guy who runs hockey pools for his friends & family, I like to be in the middle of all the news, so I enjoy keeping up with all the deals and posting them on the hockey pool blog for all to see. I especially like all the trades that have some sort of effect on my pools, just for the sake of conversation and a different angle to approach these deals with. This year, the pools have gotten a bit tighter, in terms of competitiveness, so it will be interesting to see if any of these deals are to play a role in the final results for the money. I have a stake for some money in one of my pools, so I'm really interested again this year.

The television isn't quite on yet, I still have some time to kill before the TradeCentre coverage on TSN begins. That has proven to be the better of the two major sports network shows, I don't find Sportsnet to be all that thorough with their stuff, but they do like to play the rumours a whole lot more, which is also interesting.

Speaking of rumours... I love them. They are the best part of the lead up to Deadline Day, because it gets people talking about trades and transactions, not to mention some of the other bits of nitty-gritty that keeps people interested in hockey. I don't expect any of these rumours to be 100% true, some of them I believe are 0% true, but at least it gets people talking. Granted, getting people to start talking about trades in hockey, does get to be somewhat counter-productive, since most people are just spouting off and seem to lack one side (a lot of times both sides) of thinking when it comes to making up trades, but I suppose I gotta let that slide for the most part.

Twitter has now been a huge part of being an informed hockey fan these days, I've found. It's an important tool for a lot of news, especially since some of the NHL's best writers and journalists are on there now and are posting quite regularly. Of course, some of the league's worst are also on there, but I suppose its up to you to determine which is the best and which is the worst, because that seems to boil down to personal opinion. I have some favourites that I like to depend on for news, no matter what their general opinion of the game actually is and then I have a good number of people I follow for interesting insight into the game, especially from the perspective of being a fan of another team in the league.

If hockey was a religion, the deadline would have to be a holiday that should be observed by the hockey faithful. It should be a time where friends gather around and speak of the divine game and how the different churches change their philosophies in their hunt for the holy grail. I'm mostly kidding about the religious stuff, what a load... but really, for us hockey fanatics, I think there are quite a few that would prefer to have today off to be right in the middle of it all than to be working and find out about it during the day, from friends via text or catch-up when you get home. I've been fortunate to be able to cover the deadline for the most part on my blog without too much trouble in recent years. This year being no exception, as I can spend 100% of my day working on it, hoping that someone might look at my little bits of effort and think, "hey, I can pay this guy to take his good work and put it on my ________ (fill in the blank) and make money." That'd be nice.

Well, here's to hoping that your team (or my team) pleases us with their decisions to trade, not to trade or trade away some assets in the strategy for winning somewhere along the line, which eventually leads to a Stanley Cup. With only one Cup and 30 teams in the league, its always going to be difficult to reach the end goal, but this is a good time to renew hope or settle in for an early summer. The latter only being a difficult subject if your team does really poorly at the Entry Draft or the Free Agent Frenzy.

I wish everyone luck with their teams, except for maybe the Flames... let the trading commence!

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