Feb 092011
 

I don’t blame Mike Gillis for being mad about Milan Michalek’s slewfoot on Keith Ballard, the result of which being Ballard being out an estimated 3-4 weeks.

“I saw it as a play that, in my opinion, was a violation of the rules, and one that is not a highly respected play in this league, and at this level,” Gillis said. “The puck wasn’t near Keith when it happened. And I certainly disagree with that style of play.”

Asked if he would call the league about the matter, Gillis replied: “It’s up to them if they want to look at those kind of plays … I don’t look to influence them, but I didn’t think it was a fair hockey play.”

Increasingly, there has been more of these kinds of plays – ones that can’t be considered fair hockey plays – in the league.

Last season, Evgeni Malkin rammed Willie Mitchell against the boards, a play which forced Mitchell to miss the last 4 months of the regular season and the playoffs. Malkin received a 2-minute minor, but considering the dangerous nature of the play, there was talk about whether or not Malkin deserved more.

During this year’s Winter Classic, Sidney Crosby took a blindside hit to the head from Dave Steckel. Steckel wasn’t penalized on the play, Crosby suffered a concussion, and there are whispers now that Crosby may have to call it a season.

On Sunday, Matt Cooke stuck his knee out on Alexander Ovechkin. For this dangerous play, Cooke was given only a 2-minute tripping minor.

Last night, Cooke charged at Fedor Tyutin, who was going for the puck along the glass, and hit Tyutin from behind. At least this time, Cooke was called in for a disciplinary hearing.

But then again, how much faith do fans have at these hearings?

This is the league that deems James Wisniewski’s obscene gesture as egregious an offense as Niklas Hjalmarsson’s hit from behind. This is the league that deems that cross-checks to the head aren’t even suspension-worthy.

I don’t think I need to remind you of Cooke’s hearing on his hit on Marc Savard. Savard hasn’t fully recovered from that hit and the argument can be made that he should simply retire for his own health’s sake. In the meantime, Cooke got off scot-free because, apparently, he did everything by the book on that hit. Ironically, this was the one time the NHL was consistent in its application of its rules; they didn’t suspend Mike Richards for his hit on David Booth so they didn’t suspend Cooke for his hit on Savard.

The league’s nightly officiating isn’t that much better. Too often, fans don’t know what constitutes a penalty and what doesn’t. (I’d venture to say that players themselves aren’t fully sure either.) All you need to do is follow the discussion in the media, on Twitter or on message boards, and often, the discussion is about blown calls, make-up calls and inconsistent officiating.

A perfect example is the Canucks’ game against the Blackhawks last Friday. As wildly entertaining it was – the atmosphere and the game itself was playoff-like – fans weren’t talking about the game; in fact, much of the discussion revolved around a Chicago goal that probably should have counted and a Vancouver goal that probably shouldn’t have.

There are obviously many more examples than the ones I’ve listed.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that this post isn’t purely about Ballard. The incident involving him and Michalek just happens to be the latest in what seems to be an endless string of bad plays, bad calls and bad non-calls.

NHL hockey is the best game in the world, but I think it speaks to the lack of leadership at the top that its fans talk more about what’s wrong with the game than what’s right.

I mean, if us, the media and the hardcore fans who actually care for the game are getting fed up with it, then how does the NHL think they’ll sell – and grow – it to everyone else?

[update: 02/09/2011, 12:03 PM]

It looks like the NHL suspended Matt Cooke for 4 games following his hit on Fedor Tyutin.

I’d like to think that this is the league sending a message, but to be honest, I’m not that optimistic.

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