Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gooning, Gooning, Gone

If last night's excellent Canadiens win over the hateful Flyers had a flavour, it would be sweet and sour. While it was great fun to see the Habs spend a good part of the evening in control of the game, and the score going in their favour, it was crushing to watch player after player leave the ice with injuries. Young Brendan Gallagher epitomized both the sweet and the sour tastes of the night. First, he lasered a shot off a gorgeous setup by Max Pacioretty for his fifth goal of the season. Then, he lay stunned on the ice after a late hit by Luke Schenn concussed him and forced him to the quiet room.

The predictable anger of Habs fans in the wake of silence from the league office about the play is turning into equally predictable calls for a heavyweight enforcer. Fans, convinced there's little justice to be had (and after Pacioretty's near paralyzing by Zdeno Chara two years ago didn't even draw a penalty, paranoia perhaps isn't totally unwarranted) from officials or the NHL brass, believe it's time the team bought into a policy of vigilante justice.

While it's great to think some behemoth in the lineup would be delivering vengeance with the swiftness of the Archangel Michael's fiery sword, the reality is one goon isn't going to make a noticeable difference. John Scott, who seems to be the goon-du-jour among those who yearn for a fighter, could have been on the ice last night when Schenn hit Gallagher, and he would have had one option. He'd have had to challenge Schenn. Schenn,  not being a pussy, would have accepted. Scott would probably have beaten Schenn's ass, dusted it off and handed it  back to him. In the end, the Habs would have had to kill the instigator penalty and Gallagher would still be concussed. If Scott were on the bench when it happened, then what would he have done? Attacked Schenn on the next shift? Same result, except he'd have opened the door to a possible suspension. Perhaps he should have nailed a smaller Flyers player in an eye-for-an-eye move? Again, penalty, suspension and no cure for Gallagher. I won't even mention the Georges Laraque experiment any further.

A heavyweight in the lineup might deter the more cowardly players in the league, but the problem is, we're not seeing a revival of the old Broadstreet Bullies here. We're witnessing a hockey culture that has rewarded these men for the euphemistic "finishing their checks"...translation: plastering the opponent into the boards...since they were little boys. Having to, maybe, fight a big guy on the other team afterwards is hardly going to reverse behaviour ingrained in these guys from childhood.

The Canadiens have a lot of skill in their lineup. If they had a Scott or a Parros, there would be very little opportunity to play the guy. Right now, the fourth line gets around 10-12 minutes of ice time per game. There are very few goons who can contribute actual hockey skill for that much of the game. And if they're not able to keep up, they're on the bench, which throws off the balance between the lines.

The Habs approach is one of team toughness. They have proven this year that they will avenge a teammate when it's needed. We've seen guys like David Desharnais stand up to bigger opponents in defence of P.K.Subban. They know they have each other's backs. If every player in the lineup contributes something, the Canadiens will be fine. They don't have to be a team full of lumberjacks. They just have to stick together.

The bigger problem facing them as a skilled team is the league's continued ambivalence when it comes to policing the reckless hits like the one that felled Gallagher. Bringing in a goon isn't going to make Brendan Shanahan (a terrible disappointment as league cop after his promising first few weeks) sit up and say, "Hey, that fight right after Brendan Gallagher got concussed sure makes me want to suspend Schenn." The league and the game of hockey itself needs to go back to basics and teach young men learning just learning about hitting, when and how to do it properly. The exposure of guys like Gallagher to guys like Schenn isn't something a goon can fix. It's become endemic and it's hockey's biggest problem right now. It's very interesting that Alexei Emelin, who currently stands second in the league in number of hits, can deliver some monster body shots, but rarely, if ever, targets the head or shoulders of his opponents. It's also worth noting that he trained in the Russian system, which does not emphasize the value in removing the other guy's head from his shoulders as a routine tactic.

So today, as we savour the sweet from last night's game, and pucker at the sour, know that hiring somebody to beat up the bullies won't change the fate of the Gallaghers of the world. There are just too many bullies, and the rules of the game definitely don't favour the goons or the teams that hire them.


olematelot said...

Love your blog JT, always right on.There really is no place for these guys, they really contribute little to a team. The object is to put the puck in the net which the goons can't do. Team toughness which the boys have
is what does it

Jim LaPlante said...

Well said. I am afraid that until there is a lawsuit (see NFL) or god forbid someone is killed the league is going to continue to allow these types of dangerous hits go unpunished. Good article!

moeman said...

Good read J.T.

Sadly it looks like the NHL is accepting this goonish behaviour. Refs have their backs turned on almost every play.

dra58 said...

Lovely article and very well pointed but ohh so truthful sad to say. I do like the Habs team attitude this year and while I did like Staubitz last year skaters and team 1st is the best approach. Hopefully the big brass someday realizes and gets rid of Shannahan and replaces him with a more respectful and wise person.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the answer to a lot of questions in the NHL these days is - start a fight.

Your team is flat - start a fight.
You're getting chirped - start a fight.
A teammate takes a big hit - start a fight.
Your teams getting blown out - start a fight.
Your goalie gets run - start a fight.
You want to get the attention of the blond in the 3rd row - start a fight.
You want to get praised on Coach's Corner - start a fight.

And if your stars can't fight then hire a goon to fight for them. It's The Code you know (If The Code is so damn important why isn't it part of the rules?).

Makes me wonder if we're talking about the NHL or the mob.


Normand Prejet said...

If you try to complain about these hits to injure, many fans call you a cry baby until it happens to their team. The league has to get its head out of its a-- and do something about hits to Pacioretty and Gallagher and Miller and Savard. Let wait until someone is in a wheelchair is insane. These players have family and reponsibities like all of us!!

Habo said...

I don't see any of the so called team toughness you refer to. Deharnais having your back is a joke and so is Gio, Plek, Gallagher, Arm (who doesn't fight now i guess),Pac,Galchenyuck, etc. Only a few habs can fight but as you point out, fighting doesn't really solve anything. What i think would is if the team had a couple more guys who are bigger (say 190 to 205) that will actually lay out some hard but clean hits on a CONSISTENT basis in EVERY game. Play chippy and tough so teams know that if they play chippy w habs they will at least get the same back,ie: we'll drill your guys back, even your skill guys,if you do it to us. Yes it will lead to penalties but at least teams know that there is SOME kind of price to pay for drilling the habs and it will cause guys like fedetenko (who doesn't usually play too aggressive except maybe a passive team like habs)) to not drill Galchenyuk into the boards for eg.It's crucial to play at least SOME kind of eye for an eye game or else teams will in fact create an advantage over you, because the refs/league will, up to now, allow teams to play over the line more so than the opposite. Either the habs create their own space or have it illegally taken away from them. Btw, i think all dangerous plays should be reviewed by the league after EVERY game and subsequent penalties (fines and suspensions) administered henceforth like they apparently started doing in the australian rugby league. Sorry for the long post.

Jay in PA said...

What disgusted me after Chara attempted to behead Pacioretty is that the NHL made it clear that it just doesn't care about player safety. Sidney Crosby's career nearly ended due to concussions and... Nothing significant has changed in the policing of the game. A league that gave a damn would review every incident that resulted in a player injury and actually do something about it. And that league is the NFL.

I know you are no fan of Red Fisher, but he did make one good point back in the day when the latest spate of arenas were being designed and built. He suggested that the NHL move to resize the rinks to international/olympic dimensions. That would have cut out a lot of the violence, while promoting the speed and skill. It's no surprise that the idea went nowhere.

denispelle said...

This is pure speculation but I wonder if the CH's refusal to play the goon game doesn't come right from the top, Geoff Molson that is. Seems to fit with what I know of him (little, I admit).He may not interfere in the team's hockey operation, but I believe he may have a word ot two to say about its general principles and what team culture to support.