NHL

KELLEY: NHL letting violence cycle out of control

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 
Pardon us if we stray from the magnificent story that is Saku Koivu returning to the Montreal Canadiens. And pardon us if we — for today at least — ignore the accomplishments of those very same Canadiens (in the playoffs), the scoring exploits of Jarome Iginla or the white-hot race that is the Western Conference playoff battle. It's just that we feel the need to comment on the state of NHL justice today. It's deplorable. Tuesday night in St. Louis, Blues forward Reed Low took Nashville forward Scott Hartnell hard into the stanchion at the end of the players' bench. Judging from replays, which certainly were not questionable, the play was deliberate and seemed to be done with intent to injure. Low, quaintly referred to as a hockey "tough guy," knew what kind of positioning he had on Hartnell and he used it. The smallish Hartnell was moving along the boards in front of the St. Louis bench and trying to control the puck at his feet. Low came in, took position and rode him along the boards and, when the stanchion came into play, the bigger player used the full weight of his size, strength and physical momentum to ram Hartnell's head into the padded rail. Having succeeded at that, tapes indicate Low assisted in throwing Hartnell's body to the ice. Hartnell, who normally might be expected to just slump down, ended up hitting head-first on the ice. He was immediately rendered unconscious. Team officials say he suffered a concussion. True to NHL form, there was no penalty on the play despite the fact that Hartnell had to be wheeled out on a stretcher (in some arenas, notably the legal one, that would be considered probable cause for a charge of assault with intent to injure). Hartnell was motionless for the better part of six minutes. His head was eventually placed in an immobilizer and his body was strapped to a backboard. Not only was there no penalty on the play, but it also appears there will be no further discipline. Why? Short of Marty McSorley stalking Donald Brashear, you can't find a clearer case of one player using his surroundings to cause harm to another. Low's protestations to the contrary, this was no accident. Low knew where he was on the ice, he knew where the stanchion was and he knew he was in a position to drive Hartnell into it. You can see Low using his leverage to create the final push that resulted in Hartnell's head being slammed into the stanchion. You can see that rather than help hold the player up or even let him fall, Low can be seen helping Hartnell collide headfirst with the ice with a higher rate of velocity. It's a play that's been around in hockey longer than Bryan Marchment, and it happens far too often. This one was so emphatic that the St. Louis announcers spent the better part of the near 12 minutes doctors took to tend to stabilize Hartnell to talk about the possibility of the 20-year-old facing the consequences of a possible broken neck and the chance of lifelong paralysis. It was disgusting, it appeared premeditated and it was senseless. It was, simply put, what the NHL seems to be all about these days. NHL vice president Colin Campbell has issued a slew of suspensions in recent days and in the last month has nearly equaled the total of the previous five months combined, and still the carnage continues. Part of that seems to be because as the season goes along the penalties are less substantial (teams are trying to make the playoffs you know) than they were earlier in the season. Another, perhaps more important, factor is that the players just don't seem to care. Overall, Low's actions were every bit as despicable as McSorley's on Brashear, Rob Ray's recent butt-ending of St. Louis' Bryce Salvador, St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk's recent deplorable stick swinging incident against Lyle Odelein or St. Louis' Chris Pronger's recent blatant cross check on Brenden Morrow (sense a trend here?). It just goes on and on and on. Adding insult to Hartnell's injury was the fact that the outcome of the game turned on a St. Louis power-play goal that came about because a Nashville player speared Low in apparent retaliation for the injury inflicted on Hartnell. That resulted in a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for Nashville's Nathan Perrott, and the Blues used it to score the game-winning goal. That is the NHL in a nutshell, penalties for retaliation, nothing for a deliberate attempt to separate a young man's head from his body. If you were Reed Low, how would you play the game? "It was a life-or-death situation out there," Blues coach Joel Quenneville said not of Hartnell's situation, but the Blues' precarious playoff situation and the need to win at any cost. "It wasn't easy." As if somehow that's an excuse. The NHL's lack of action to this point is nearly as bad as the incident itself. This sends a message that these types of infractions don't matter in part because the victim perhaps wasn't watching where he was going or because perhaps he plays for a team that will not make the playoffs this season. Nashville has been out of playoff contention for several games now. You can argue that Low had no need to hammer Hartnell like he did, but so what? His team was trailing at the time and it's an oft-stated fact in the NHL that players who can't score very often need to "do something" to change the momentum of the game. It apparently doesn't matter that Hartnell was doing what he was supposed to do. He was competing even though his team had no shot at the playoffs, maybe at not winning another game this season. That he was doing so apparently makes it perfectly acceptable to have his skull whipped into a padded pipe. Part of the game, eh? "It was a scary incident," said Low, who apparently is relived that he wasn't responsible for actions that could well have resulted in Hartnell being confined to either a wheelchair or a coffin. "You don't like to see guys get hurt. It was good to see him moving his legs." A player is playing the puck. Another player takes his head and rams it into a pipe, and it's "good to see him moving his legs"? Is that part of the game? If the NHL does nothing, doesn't this become just another case of the league's "standards" of justice, discipline and fair play continuing to move so far away from logic and sensibility that they don't just border, but fully cross over to the absurd? Is this a league that has no standards for these kinds of actions? Strangely enough one can say the same about the NHL Players Association and its incomprehensible silence about player-on-player violence. Last week Tampa's Andre Roy left the penalty box and confronted a game official. He was in the wrong, but, essentially, he harmed no one. He got suspended for 13 games. Last night, Scott Hartnell leaves the ice on a stretcher and Reed Low got nothing and the NHL and the NHLPA act as if nothing happened. For them it was business as usual. Not exactly a great night for hockey after all. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Sabres, Stars, Canadiens, Senators, Sharks, Blues, Canucks, Predators, Blue Jackets, Brenden Morrow, Saku Koivu, Andre Roy, Bryce Salvador, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger, Reed Low, Donald Brashear, Scott Hartnell

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