Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Return to Winnipeg


The Winnipeg fever is catching on and for good reason.  The deal was agreed upon to bring the Atlanta Thrashers up North to the capital city of Manitoba, bringing the great game of hockey back to the city of Winnipeg.

The joy that must be running through the citizens of Winnipeg must be fantastic, while the hockey fans that are in Atlanta, as many as there may be, are likely shattered with disappointment that they have once again lost an NHL franchise.

To me, I'm very much in the middle, between joy and disappointment, more so to the feeling of indifference.  There is no real argument in either direction that would likely change my feeling on this matter, especially since I don't really buy into the "Make It Seven" movement for the sake of having seven Canadian teams, nor am I really going to spend my time worrying about what kind of market these teams are residing in or moving to, because team or league revenue is none of my everyday concern.  It's not my bleedin' money, why should I care who is losing or making money?

I would be truly disappointed if the Thrashers, in this case, just folded and shut up their shop and didn't take any opportunity to relocate, going down to 29 teams would be a real disappointment.  I would probably be more elated if the NHL decided to expand to 31 or 32 teams, increasing the amount of talent we would get to see in the NHL in any given season.  Relocation just doesn't work the same way for me.

This isn't to say that this situation isn't interesting, because it really is.  There are all kinds of stories now surrounding this impending move that makes for a raised eyebrow or two.  Will players want to move to Winnipeg?  What kind of budget does the new ownership group have for the franchise?  What will the eventual divisonal re-alignment look like?  I think the hockey related questions are way more interesting than the cosmetic questions, like "what name will they finally decide to use?"

I'm sure Winnipeg and the MTS Centre will be a rockin' place for NHL hockey and they will have a good growing team to support.  I do hope for the best in Winnipeg, much like I did for Atlanta and continue to for Phoenix, because there are people who love this game in these cities and I can't imagine what it would be like if I couldn't cheer for my favourite team any more.  It's a heartbreaking thought and I do feel for those Thrashers fans that have now lost their team to the big business.

It may not be my biggest concern, but I suppose I have a little bit of nostalgia for the Jets name... I wouldn't mind seeing my favourite Canucks beat the Jets in the first round of the playoffs again.  That would have a heart-warming feel to it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quick Thought on Chara's Hit on Pacioretty

This sucks. I don't think I need a blog post to really say just that, but it does provide a good lead into it all.  No one wants to see a guy wrap his face around the glass stanchion like a car around a tree, period.

As a standard, I really try to take the speed of the game into consideration for a lot of these kinds of incidents and I think there really is a good argument for it, but there is a hefty argument working against Zdeno Chara, as he and Max Pacioretty, the victim of this awful event, have a bit of a history this season and there were enough strides and more than enough time leading up to the collision along the boards, that could suggest that the giant Slovak defenseman wasn't going to let up.

I'm not sure what kind of consideration Chara had, when both players approached the open stanchion, about putting Pacioretty into it at full speed, but I could pretty well assure you that he would have put all he had into the rub out if it was all glass and boards and nothing else.

Watching it over and over again, it's hard not to take the shove into some sort of consideration.  This again goes back to the speed of the game argument, which has a lot of valid points.  Watching the play in real time is the key, because that's what this has to really be judged on.  It looked to be a rub, but Chara has a few strikes against him, taking away some of his allotted 'benefit of the doubt.'

Personally, I'm not going to lose much sleep over this hit, it really sucked and I hope Pacioretty is okay after it is all said and done.  Any supplementary discipline, if there is any to speak of, likely won't be terribly severe, in my opinion.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Taking on the Kostopoulos Suspension Decision

The NHL decided to come down hard on Calgary Flames forward Tom Kostopoulos on Sunday afternoon, levying him a six-game suspension for his hit on Brad Stuart of the Detroit Red Wings, which left the veteran defenseman with a broken jaw.  This is quickly becoming a hot topic and I thought I would write my first post of the New Year on the Soapbox about this controversy.

Below, have a look at the video and get a look at the play in question.

Since the implementation of Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head), there has been plenty of focus surrounding this rule as a whole and possibly for good reason. There were a number of checks in the 2010 season, which were deemed questionable by good judgement, but also deemed legal, as there wasn't any elbows, sticks or charges into these checks, rather catching an opposing player unaware and striking a blow to his head. Fair enough, Rule 48 is in the books and it has been used off an on in the 2011 season to good measure.

As Mike Milbury contends (included in the clip below), and many agree to, including myself, the check does not fall under the guidelines of Rule 48, because the check was applied from the front, eliminating the first part of the rule.

Rule 48.1 -- Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

Okay, I think that part is definitely lost in the heated nature of the argument and should be re-evaluated.  Since the hit shouldn't fall under Rule 48, we really should get away from referring to it, because it doesn't apply.

The call on the ice during the game was Kostopoulos receiving a 2-minute minor for roughing and no other penalties were given out on the play.  A roughing call does have a certain level of discretion applied to it by the referees in the game, especially in the sense that the game is so fast and goes beyond the field of view for most referees.  For argument's sake, let's have a look at the letter of the law for a roughing call...

Rule 51.1 -- Roughing – Roughing is a punching motion with the hand or fist, with or without the glove on the hand, normally directed at the head or face of an opponent.

Roughing is a minor altercation that is not worthy of a major penalty to either participant. (An altercation is a situation involving two players with at least one to be penalized).

Although the play does not involve a punch, rather a shoulder in a clean check fashion, it likely shouldn't have been deemed a roughing call, more than an interference call, at best.

Since the call on the ice was indeed a roughing call, the NHL league offices do have the ability to levy supplemental discipline under Rule 51.4.

Rule 51.4 -- Fines and Suspensions - There are no specified fines or suspensions for roughing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

Despite the use of the roughing rule was possibly applied improperly by the letter of the law, you could argue that applying supplementary discipline should not apply to this case. Which I think is a fair argument to use.

But wait! There's more. Let's actually refer to Rule 28 for argument's sake.

Rule 28.1 -- Supplementary Discipline - In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess
additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel
or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.

If an investigation is requested by a Club or by the League on its own initiative, it must be initiated within twenty-four (24) hours following the completion of the game in which the incident occurred.

Boy, oh boy... I think we have ourselves a winner.  At the league office's discretion, any incident on the ice can be reviewed and subject to supplementary discipline, even if the play wasn't penalized by the referee.  I would also take that as penalized correctly by the referee, for this instance in particular.

Let us also go back in time, to the not-so-distant past, to when the hits to the head to unsuspecting players was a hot button topic.  The league, executives and most of its players were in general agreement that these hits should be removed from the game, period.  With that being said, most people would also agree that Rule 48 isn't perfect, despite it being very clear in its wording.

So, finally, let's review what Colin Campbell had to say about his decision in his statement on Sunday afternoon.

"A number of factors were considered in reaching this decision," said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell.

"Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principle point of contact.

"The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player's injury were also considered in my decision."

The league outlined the fact that the hit in question was not a blindside or lateral hit, thus eliminating Rule 48 from the argument, but a serious injury was caused during the play where an unsuspecting player took a blow to the head, without possession of the puck, did take place and punishment was deemed appropriate.

To sum it all up, from my perspective, this isn't a decision with the letter of the law, rather a decision that exercises good judgement. If Brad Stuart was not seriously injured on the play, this play would have had a short debate about Rule 48, have it quashed and Kostopoulos would be able to dress in the Flames next game.

The injury, which was a result of a blow to the head, because you can't break someone's jaw by hitting them in the chest, was a key reasoning factor, not to mention the appearance of the hit did look somewhat vicious.

I'm a big supporter of clean checks to the head, I don't think there is any way to get around them in a lot of instances, but I can at least see the reasoning behind the unsuspecting player aspect of the whole thing.  This will be the kind of hit and supplementary discipline decision, which will likely incur a revision to the rule for the sake of better judgement.