Friday, June 10, 2011

The State of the Game

As I watched Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals, I realized the Boston Bruins would be very fitting NHL champions this year. A league champion should be the team that best exemplifies the qualities of the game as it exists in a particular season. This year, the Bruins are that team.

Let's take a look at the most important stories in the league this year. Perhaps the most significant of those has been the devastating hits to the head sustained by so many players, including superstar Sidney Crosby. The hit that galvanized the entire hockey world with the single demand to "DO something," however, happened when Zdeno Chara crushed Max Pacioretty into a stanchion and broke his neck. Nobody who watched that game will forget the young Canadien lying motionless on the ice, not knowing if he would play hockey again, or even live. The timing of it, with the Bruins getting creamed by the Canadiens and Chara having developed a dislike of Pacioretty to go with his frustration at losing that game, smacked of intent to "teach the guy a lesson." Of course, the hit, while bringing the debate on head shots to a boil, cost Pacioretty the remainder of his season and quite likely helped the Bruins win their first-round series.

Following from that was the second-most important NHL story of the year. The league's discipline policy has always been vague and inconsistent at best, but the decision to let Chara go without a single game's suspension set off a level of public outrage the NHL brass was obviously not anticipating. The conflict of interest in having the father of a player acting as league disciplinarian began to take on a level of rather ominous significance. In that sense, the Bruins were the poster team for what's wrong with NHL discipline.

I talked to a former NHL player yesterday who told me he's not impressed with the way so many current players are acting like they're still in minor hockey. The constant pushing after the whistle by some teams, the childish taunting of opponents and the public bitching about other players is becoming embarrassing. Prominent examples of such behaviour have been on public display during these playoffs. The Bruins have become notorious for initiating post-whistle garbage in every game they've played. We saw it during the season as they facewashed and crosschecked their way to the Northeast division title, and it's been even more noticable during the post-season. Even goalie Tim Thomas is in on the act, throwing himself at opponents in his crease. (Which, incidentally is a penalty, but was twice uncalled in the playoffs.)

The taunting in the Finals, which respected pros have called ridiculous, has been the epitome of sore winning. There's nothing quite as unpalatable in the world of sports as a team or player that can't win with grace. Watching Max Lapierre tease Patrice Bergeron by shoving his fingers in the biting victim's face was bad enough. Seeing Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic duplicate the gesture in the next game with the gleeful meanness born of gloating was stomach-turning. Couple that with classy gestures like Andrew Ference's one-finger salute to the Bell Centre crowd after a Bruins win, and Nathan Horton's squirting a fan with water before flinging the bottle at him in the stands, and the poor sportsmanship displayed during these playoffs has reached a new low.

Then there's the bitching. Players like Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi complaining about the Canadiens for being a team of divers is more than a little hypocritical. Marchand's got two diving penalties in these playoffs and has attempted the manouver many more times than he's been caught. Recchi's dismissal of the seriousness of Max Pacioretty's injury in the media before the playoffs began revealed a bit of the character of these Bruins. Tim Thomas revealed a bit more when he had an opportunity to be gracious following his team's defeat of the Canadiens. When asked about the play of Habs rookie P.K.Subban, Thomas could have taken the high road and said something non-committal. Instead, he chose to sink as low as possible and call the kid a "travesty" to hockey.

I've been disillusioned with the NHL since the league's lack of intestinal fortitude both led to the Pacioretty hit and failed to levy justice for it. The playoffs have served to underline a lot of the inherent problems in the NHL right now, not least by presenting the Bruins as a Stanley Cup finalist. Should the Bs win, they'd certainly be fitting champions. After all, no team exhibits the cheap shots, public whining and poor sportsmanship polluting the league better than the Bruins.

*Post Script: I neglected to mention a side effect of a team like the Bruins doing well. The attitude and behaviour rubs off on those who follow the team, especially if those fans have been long deprived of any kind of notable success. Look no further than the comments section below for an example of such behaviour, better than anything I could describe. Naturally, it's posted by "anonymous."


Anvilcloud said...

I more or less stayed away from hockey for a long time in the clutch and grab era, but the present situation may send me away again. The New NHL could have gone so well, but it has been allowed to degenerate into this arrant nonsense.

V said...

Could not agree more.

Mike Safoniuk said...

As always, JT, you've managed to capture in well written words what so many of us Habs fans have been thinking.

Paul B. said...

I was the happiest man in the world when we took the Cup away from the Bullies in 1976.

I thought I hated Clarke, Schultze, Kelly, Van Impe and most others POS of that team but I seriously think I hate the Ruins a lot more.

They are a disgrace to the sport and everyone who loves them and the way they "play" hockey,should consider getting psychological help.

Marc-Olivier said...

AMEN to that Leigh Anne!

Anonymous said...

This tripe is awful! Hahahahahahahahaha. You speak of whining when it fact, this article is the embodiment of whining. The Habs lost in a hard-fought, very close series. I have friends who are die-hard Habs fans who don't bitch and whine like this blogger. They accepted the loss, but while still hating the Bruins.

I also doubt you talkied to a former NHL player, as you say.

I'm sick of your religious zealotry and ad nauseam nationalism displayed by most Habs fans. You're a dispicable bunch. Learn to lose.

dusty said...

Agree completely.

I consider myself a true hockey fan and have enjoyed every Cup final during my lifetime regardless of the teams playing. That is until this one. I have yet to watch a full game because I can't watch the Bruins without feeling ill. Boston has seemingly been a team of destiny, cruising thru the playoffs without significant injury until Horton and he is hardly as important to his team as the losses of Markov, Gorges, Max Pac,Pronger, Carter, Kubina (MAB took his place) and Bergenhiem (leading goal scorer with nine when injured) to the teams the Bruins beat to reach the final. And of course Thomas doing his Roy imitation (liked him until he trashed Subban and the Habs in general) adds further insult.

This series isn't over but I have a bad feeling that it is. The only consolation may be that Julien gets a five year contract extension and gets fired after missing the playoffs next season. He was one overtime goal from hitting the bricks and now......oh well.

Still can't believe Peverly, Campbell, Horton and Kaberle (none of whom I would want on my team have made Chiarelli look like a genius. I like Kelly even though he was a Senator.

Will be checking the score hourly but won't be able to watch game 5. I guess I'm not such a great hockey fan as I thought.

Woodvid said...

The funny thing about Anonymous's comment above is that it contains exactly the kind of mispellings and grammatical mistakes that you'd expect from a fan of the pugilistic, unsportsmanlike hockey that we're seeing.

(And lo and behold JT, I scrolled up to check something in the original post, and I see you noticed this too. Too funny.)

In any event, if hockey is catering to that type of fan -- and indeed it seems to be -- then, slowly but surely, I will cease to be a fan. I'll be better off without it (in its current form), and people such as Anonymous above will be more than happy to see me go, of course. So be it.

dan edmunds said...

hey anonymous, leave your name bud!

if you have ever read this blog, there are interviews with former players and with this quality of writing (which I am sure you are no judge of) this is no amateur hour blog.

Rock on the Rock said...

The worst (best) example of Thuggery and Goonery trumping skill and talent - our ancestors acted like this about 1000-1500 years ago I guess evolution isn't perfect!
The play this year by the Boston GOONS is disgraceful - those Canadian players should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions - no better than the idiot Bostonian interviewed who said that Canadians coming to Boston to see a game should expect it (referring to a Canucks fan being urinated on by a piece of siht.)
As for "well there's certainly more Canadians on Boston than Vancouver"... if that's the measure, I have more respect for those who CHOSE to PLAY IN CANADA and those who CHOSE TO LEAVE.
Maybe some moron from Boston can explain to us why Rome got suspended and Chara didn't (for hit on Patches - an AMERICAN playing in CANADA). Incidentally, Chara did say after game 3 that's we're trying to get these kind of hits out of the game, yeah,right.
If Shanahan doesn't do any better than Greg's Dad then the NHL has truly stooped to the level of the WWE.
If the Goons do actually win the cup, I guess every team now has to raise the childish crap of slashing poking and constantly cross checking and general thuggery etc and employ a thug. Hopefully it won't come down to teams taking out other teams top players deliberately but if this is allowed to continue it will happen.

Unknown said...

J.T., people should read what you write more often.

moeman said...

Merci JT.

Ian said...

Excellent post, Leigh Anne. Right on. I will puke if the Bruins win the Cup. A bunch of classless goons and neanderthals!

I stopped watching the playoffs after Game 7 in Round 1. I just couldn't stomach the thought of the Bruins advancing.

I heard about the Rome hit on Horton and the four game suspension that followed. Mike Murphy said that, 1: it was a late hit; 2: there was contact to the head, and 3: there was a serious injury.

So, let's see...1: Max was hit by Chara very late; 2: stop action photos show Chara's elbow to the back of Max's head as it is rammed into the stanchion, and 3: Max ended up with a broken neck.

Hmmm. No suspension!

On the replay of the Horton hit I saw, the Boston fans were furious at the hit. These would likely be the same fans that thought Chara's hit was 'a hockey play', I'm sure. They make me want to puke!

Vancouver beat Boston 1-0 last night, and I am very happy. I hope they win the Cup on Boston ice on Monday. That would be perfect!!!!

Yes, I hate the Bruins. Thuggery and goonery is not hockey.

And to Anonymous - KMA. This is one of the premier blogs available anywhere.

Raj said...

Leigh Anne:

Don't let posters like the one who commented here dissuade you from writing what you think, There are indeed many of us who think like you but lack the requisite talent to write so eloquently about how we feel. Like Ian, I will feel the barbarians have taken over if the Bruins win. I already stopped watching hockey after the Max-Chara incident when it was dismissed as a "hockey play." I can't help feeling that we're going to have no influence on a league that not only tolerates, but encourages, brutishness except by voting with our TV remotes. Keep up the great work. You may be vox clamantis in deserto in the blogosphere but know you represent the sane, if somewhat silent, majority. I know that hockey won't survive if it becomes roller derby -- anyone remember the latter?

Jim said...

Leigh Anne,

Indeed the biggest downside to any Goon success is the "monkey see monkey do" attitude so prominent in the NHL.

Just harken back to a year ago when the accepted wisdom was that "superstar goaltenders" were not a requirement for Stanley Cup success and then look at this season!

As far a the so-called fans of Boston it is abundantly clear that few, a miniscule percentage have ever played a minute of organized hockey and they have drunk the Jeremy Jacobs Koolaid; that NHL hockey is no more than MMA at high speed.

That also includes the Boston media who are no more than catalysts hyping up the boorish and often xenophobic fans. Their limited hockey vocabulary/knowledge is blasted forth from talk radio, print media and NESN broadcasts day in and out!(even yesterday's Boston Globe game report referred to Maxim Yappierre as a "former Hab diver" in its report of the game winning goal. Was it a "former Hab" which is accurate or former diver which is easily up for discussion)

Hockey Night in Canada is also a prime example! Cherry, PJ Stock, Galley and Milbury come on!

Further downsides include:

The commissioner and his subservience to the Chairman of the BOG, not the BOG but just the chairman who BTW extended his 6+ Mill per year contract on the QT.

The subjectivity of the disciplinary process, a lack of a black and white framework equating on ice behaviour, major and game misconducts to automatic suspensions, and remove the protection now obliged to "star" players and members of teams who appear to be on a no suspend list no matter what they do during games.

Lastly, most professional sports have recognized "taunting" as the dangerous detriment it is, as spark-plug for excessive game violence and this behaviour is penalized.

Not the NHL, who are facing such a crisis with public opinion strongly against hockey violence to the point where parents of the next generation of NHL stars are discouraging or forbidding their kids to play hockey at all.

DanielleJam said...

J.T., thank you so much for choosing to show what anon wrote instead of disregarding it. Clearly you knew what you were doing - we ALL got a GOOD laugh!!! Ha!


MC said...

While we are on the topic of bashing the Bruins, Kevin Bieksa made a good observation about them in an interview yesterday. He said that for some reason the Bruins are always looking for extrinsic motivation, the "bulletin board" material to play their best, whereas the Canucks have all the motivation they need inside the dressing room in trying to win the Stanley Cup. They were the same against the Habs all season, focusing on Subban and Pacioretty, etc, instead of wins and losses. I believe it is a bad habit they have developed as an organization.

dusty said...

Bruins win an awful series and the classless Vancouver fans go crazy. What a nightmare!

How the hell did the Canucks win the President's trophy? They looked horrible. Sedin (don't know which one they look alike, haha) takes 5 or 6 swats to the face from Boston's smurf Marchand with no response. That says it all for me. Vancouver needs a complete overhaul ala Bob Gainey but they are locked in to all those losers for the next decade. Gotta feel sorry for Kesler.

Woodvid said...

Seems like it's gone beyond the state of the game to the state of society. Oh boy.

Woodvid said...

Just to add to my previous comment: I think I'm going to take a year off from hockey. It -- all of it -- has left a really bad taste in my mouth this season. I may not last, because the gods know life can get pretty boring on a Tuesday night in Montreal when it's minus 30, but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

Leigh Ann, the world is full of haters. All Anons aren't haters but many haters are anons. Look at Vancouver last night. A beautiful evening spoiled by planned destruction. Were they fans? Does it matter?

The Bruins have no monopoly on boorish fan behaviour. Montreal has it's boobirds and I pick that as the example because I too am a Canadiens fan. They disgust me. They ride a player, a team, anything that makes themselves feel superior. They identify with the team as "we" in we have to do this, or we are one player short of a full team. They say things like 'must' or 'have to' and spit venom and falicious arguements at anyone who disagrees or presents another side. They aren't part of the "we". Price is. Martin is. Gainey is. They aren't.

Fan is short for fanatic. By nature no fan is objective. Owners know this. And last night for Vancouver the spin off of having a team in the Cup finals was millions in damage to property, millions in cost present and future, and billions in lost reputation.

The NHL won't touch that bill but they will empty the till fast enough. Bettman is booed everywhere because people really dislike him and what the NHL has become. They just don't know why.


PS: Yes I would log in and not be anon if my hyper vigilent browser didn't kick me out each time I tried to cross. So count me as anon:-(

Humberto said...

Shoot, son, learn to lose? And Montreal? That's a phrase we don't and can't learn you enjoy your one god damn cup in what? 40 years and that makes it three since the freaking 30s or something, we have more and better passionate fans, who are a little more touched into the educational thinking and common sense unlike all the "Broons" fans i've encountered. Get the hell out of here, hussy.