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Illegal is illegal, regardless of injury

Mar 15, 2010, 3:00 PM EDT

booth.jpgWith the hockey world still awaiting news of Ovechkin’s suspension,
it seems that everyone is weighing in with their opinion on the legality
of hits and whether a suspension is worthy and why is Ovechkin getting
punished while Matt Cooke got off without one.

Well, here’s my
take on this whole mess.

The NHL takes injuries into account
when handing out punishment.

Here’s my biggest issue with the
entire system. If a play commits an egregious and illegal act on the
ice, he should be punished the exact same way each time. Every player
should be suspended in the same manner for the same hits, regardless of
whether they are a superstar or not and no matter what team they might
play for.

Of course, repeat offenders would be punished
accordingly and on a tiered system. They currently — supposedly — act
more harshly towards repeat offenders but it’s not the same way each
time.

That’s not the way the NHL works, however. It doesn’t matter
if one hit is just as dangerous and illegal as the next, if there
wasn’t an injury involved it’s not punished as harshly.

Witness
the Steve Downie slew foot of Sidney Crosby. There was about a half-inch
worth of movement to either side during that hit and we’d be having a
completely different conversation today. If Crosby’s knee had buckled
and his season was potentially over, Downie would be standing right
behind Ovechkin in line to talk to Colin Campbell. But Crosby was fine,
and it appears Downie will escape further punishment. Does that fact
that an injury did not occur make the play any less illegal?

The
NHL was supposedly content with letting the game misconduct stand as
Ovechkin’s only punishment, until we learned today that Brian Campbell
is potentially out for the season with a broken collarbone. Now Ovechkin
could be facing a multiple-game suspension. Does Campbell’s injury
suddenly make the play worse?

What about Matt Cooke?

Some
of you say the NHL didn’t suspend Cooke, with Marc Savard likely out
for the season with a concussion. Well, the issue here is that the
league currently does not have a rule in place to deem what Cooke did
was illegal. As stupid as that is, it’s the reality of the situation
and  as reprehensible as the hit was the NHL’s hands were tied. Can’t
punish him for a hit that technically wasn’t illegal; the NHLPA would be
all over that one.

Of course, the NHL is trying to correct their
mistake with a proposed rule change but that doesn’t alter the
punishment that Cooke should have received. Now we have talk of player
retribution and the fact that Matt Cooke and other Penguins players
might have a bounty of their heads.

Boy, that sure is a better
alternative.

The punishment should be the same, regardless of
injury.

This is where a standardized punishment system would
work. Everyone knows what the punishment is for such and such hit, and
every subsequent violation results in a lengthier suspension. There is
far too much subjectivity involved to make any punishments feel correct.
The fact that teams are actively lobbying in one way or the other –
and getting their way — is the perfect evidence that the system is
broken.

And for the record, I believe that Ovechkin should be
suspended for his actions. It was a reckless play, not malicious, but
reckless. It was dangerous. I’d say the same thing now if Brian Campbell
had walked away fine from the play. But if Ovechkin is suspended then
Steve Downie should be as well, and the fact that won’t happen is the
exact reason things need to change.

  1. Tony - Mar 15, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    Regarding Cooke’s supposedly legal hit:
    Rule 21: Match Penalties
    21.1 A match penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper
    who deliberately attempts to injure an opponent in any manner.
    A match penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who
    deliberately injures an opponent in any manner.
    You could argue that it was an unintentional hit, but you’d be crazy. How can you not even mention this rule?

  2. Brandon Worley - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    Tony – I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s the logic the NHL used when not suspending Matt Cooke. I believe the fact that the on-ice officials failed to assess a match penalty was a big factor as well. What’s the definition of ‘intent to injure’ anyways? Is it a dangerous and careless hit, that could easily have been a big check if he aimed it and timed it correctly? Or is it when a player swings his stick at another player’s head? THAT is intent to injure, very clearly. Once again, subjectivity factors into the issue.

  3. IRockTheRed - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    So do you think that Craig Adams should have been suspended for this? http://bit.ly/aQNkOn

  4. Mike - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    I may be dumb, but how is what Steve Downie not worse than either the Cooke hit or the Ovechkin hit? At least the Cooke and Ovechkin hits were something close to resembling legal play, the Downie cheap shot could have no other intention than to cause injury. Regardless of whether Crosby can take the ice or not, Downie has no business playing again for this season. If Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell weren’t such ridiculous clowns maybe the audience for the game would be larger.

  5. Brandon Worley - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    @IRock – Yes, I think that Adams should have been suspended. If checking someone from behind and into the boards in suspension-worthy (see: James Neal) then what Adams did is certainly worthy of a suspension.

  6. Tony - Mar 15, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    My point is that the NHL’s logic is flawed. There is clearly a rule that could be cited to give him a suspension. They act like they were handcuffed because there was no rule.
    The on ice non-assessment is a good point, but you can’t always count on the on ice ref to have a clear view of what happened with the speed of this game. If the league sees something the refs missed, it should be addressed.
    As far as intent goes, that’s a good question. I think you have to look at a player’s history as well as the current situation. That’s how it works in criminal court – if you have a long rap sheet, the penalties are stricter.
    And nobody can tell me Cooke doesn’t have a long rap sheet.

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