What Game Are You Watching?


Photo Credit: Sportsfanlive.com

Scott Stevens. A Hall Of Fame defenceman. The longest reigning Devils captain. Three time Stanley Cup winner. One of the hardest open ice hitters in NHL history. Matt Cooke. Stanley Cup winner. Founder of the The Cooke Family Foundation Of Hope. Pest. Dirty player. Animal. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Hey, it’s a hockey game. It’s not figure skating. You know what? I can take a hit and I can give a hit. I don’t care who it is. No one gets a free ride out there. I don’t get a free ride, and no one gets a free ride from me.” Scott Stevens

It’s a wonder what a rule change can do for your reputation isn’t it? Scott Stevens is widely recognized as one of the greats of the game, and with good reason. However I ask you this: “Does a rule change and a (justified) hockey wide head hit paranoia change personal player ethics and conduct on the ice?” It really shouldn’t. Dirty hits should always be recognized as dirty hits right? If so, why doesn’t the league and its fans along with the current changes, distance themselves from reckless and dangerous conduct on the ice by one of their former greats? Why are the current “more productive” players like Mike Richards seemingly exempt from league suspensions?

Scott Stevens was a hunter. No secret in that. He looked for that vulnerable player on the ice and made devastating hits along his own blueline. We are still living in a time where TSN puts out top 10 “highlight reel hits to the head” courtesy of Scott Stevens and the fans are reveling in it. Yes, on that  Lindros did in fact skate with his head down in that career ending Flyers Devils series but does that mean he has to have his career and life crushed with a freight train head hit. Furthermore, just because  hockey people, people in general try to give us that more enlightened outlook on life and the game and suddenly feel the game can be cleaned up in split second moment doesn’t mean that the job is done just by branding Matt Cooke a villain. It is just part of the process. Same fans that call Matt Cooke an animal don’t put Stevens in the same cage. This isn’t a shot at Scott Stevens. It’s not a defense of Matt Cooke, nor is it a complete judgment of what hockey used to be. This is more about what the NHL is presenting itself to be today.

“I’ve been asked to play a certain role here, which doesn’t help in that area. But I feel that gives the team a chance to win every night. That’s the satisfaction I get.” Scott Stevens

Culture change takes time. Changing the nature of energy players takes time. Suddenly judging players like Raffi Torres without understanding that are/were encouraged to play a certain way which included dishing out hard borderline hits to star players is hypocritical. Don’t get me wrong it’s absolutely correct in nature, but it’s wrong in the “how”. Raffi Torres recently threw a hit which while big, and punishable by the currently valid NHL rulebook, is something Wendel Clark did on a regular basis. So by saying “Raffi Torres should be banned from the league, he’s filthy, repeat offender etc.” you might be correct, although I would disagree (on Torres) but what I’m really asking you is what game were you watching prior to say, the lockout?

Raffi Torres has been in the league since 2001-2002 and he’s been making the same kind of hits he’s been making since he first put his skates on NHL ice. Only now the same kinds of hits that were lauded and applauded are branded as horrendous and evil. Raffi Torres needs time to change his game. Coaches need to want to sacrifice a win or two for the good of the game, make Raffi Torres realize he can indeed hurt people, adapt his game and use controlled aggression when going for that big hit. It takes time. Most importantly, the same culture that puts winning in front of everything needs to take a step back and educate young players, make that young people, that health trumps everything. Player ethics and peer respect should be equally important as making an impact in a game of hockey.

It’s not only a phenomenon of long standing “energy” player requirements and their hockey “education”, it’s also about making money of exciting and dangerous plays by advertising a game as a hard hitting, no nonsense sport. Here is an example. Why is that same Torres called a cleanly visible headshot and a dirty hit from the Versus analysts only to be put in the highlight pack by the same network just minutes later? What this says to me is “We want to eliminate that kind of play, but at the same time it’s just too exciting not to use to advertise the game with.” I ask you, if a hit is indeed criminal, why show it? Why equal its value to goals and big saves?

So, are we really completely distancing ourselves from the parts of the overly violent NHL if we don’t recognize the same historically violent parts or use those violent parts as highlight reel material? We really aren’t, the league isn’t. Again, should a player’s ethic and conduct to his fellow player change just because of a rule change? It should, but only if it constitutes translation from negative to positive. In doing so, we’re actually automatically recognizing parts of the hockey past as negative. So, let’s finally recognize them.