Thrilling or thuggery? Old-time hockey is back
If old-time hockey is back, it’s left many – from Al Arbour to
Wayne Gretzky and even Don Cherry – questioning whether they like
the gritty sequel.
Stopping well short of making comparisons to the bloody,
gap-toothed Broad Street Bully era of the 1970s, Arbour is upset
with the head-hunting hits and suspension-a-day headlines
dominating the first round of the NHL playoffs.
”It surprises me,” the retired hall of fame coach said by
phone from his home in Florida. ”Never mind what it was in our
day. It’s getting carried away. They’re getting carried away with
everything. They’re reckless in what they’re doing right now.”
Watching games every night on TV, Arbour was bothered seeing
stars Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux exchange punches during Game
3 of the Penguins-Flyers’ series last weekend. And he was
particularly upset in seeing Phoenix forward Raffi Torres go
unpenalized after launching himself into Marian Hossa with such
force that the Chicago forward had to be carted off the ice on
”Yes, it does bother me,” Arbour said. ”It bothers me a
He’s not alone in wondering whether today’s game is crossing the
line from thrilling to thuggery.
”It’s a little bit risque’ right now, there’s no question,”
Gretzky told Philadelphia’s Fanatic-Radio, while noting he’s most
surprised by how star players are being targeted.
”They talk about the Flyers back in the `70s, guys like Bobby
Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz. But you never really saw
those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil
Esposito,” Gretzky said. ”It was just sort of honest, hard,
”And it’s changed.”
Cherry, a former coach and long-time commentator on CBC’s Hockey
Night in Canada, drew the line when it came to blindside hits such
as the one Torres delivered, and Rangers forward Carl Hagelin’s
elbow that knocked out Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2
of their series.
”To me, they’re cheapshots,” Cherry said on his Coach’s Corner
segment Wednesday. ”They are not warriors when you blindside guys
Through the first eight days of the playoffs, nine players have
been issued suspensions, including Torres who will learn whether
his indefinite ban will be extended following a hearing Friday. Two
other players, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and the Ottawa Senators
have also been fined.
Penalty minutes are up over previous playoff first rounds.
According to STATS LLC, teams are averaging 18 penalty minutes a
game this year, which is pacing at the highest rate since 1998,
when the first-round average was 20.1 minutes. Leading the way is
the Flyers-Penguins slugfest of a series, which has produced 282
penalty minutes in four games.
Yet the rise is coming on the heels of one of the least
penalized regular seasons of the NHL’s modern era. Teams averaged
11.2 penalty minutes per game last season, the lowest total in at
least 23 years, according to STATS.
And it was a season in which the NHL made strides in addressing
hits to the head after numerous star players – Crosby,
Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk, Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin,
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller –
missed stretches due to concussion-related injuries.
”It’s emotion,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said referring to
the physical nature of the playoffs. ”I think everybody believes
they have a chance right now. Passionate groups, all 16 of them,
worked hard to get here and they’re trying to find an edge any way
The NHL’s chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has been faulted
for being inconsistent. The criticism began when he fined Nashville
captain Shea Weber the league maximum $2,500 for being ”reckless”
in punching and then shoving Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg head-first
into the glass in Game 1 of their series.
Though Zetterberg wasn’t hurt, Shanahan’s ruling led questions
regarded what merited a suspension.
”Right now it’s always going to be blurred lines. It’s never
going to be black and white,” Predators defenseman Kevin Klein
said. ”But hopefully, guys come to terms with the rules and maybe
back off just a little bit.”
NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire believes Shanahan missed an
”I wish he suspended Shea Weber for a game. I think that
would’ve sent a message around the league,” McGuire said. ”He
didn’t do that, so things kind of started to move pretty
McGuire does credit Shanahan for how he’s responded since by
issuing multiple-game suspensions to several players, and one-game
bans to such stars as Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and
Pittsburgh’s James Neal.
And McGuire was impressed further by how the officials responded
in setting the tone by calling eight penalties in the first period
alone of Pittsburgh’s 10-3 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday.
”The referees conducted themselves unbelievably well last night
and created probably the template for the rest of the series,” he
said. ”Players know if they act up, they’re done.”
E-mail messages left with the NHL were not returned.
The fisticuffs haven’t turned off fans. NBC announced that more
than 18.4 million viewers have watched the playoffs through
Tuesday. That’s up nearly 5 million over the same period as last
Former player and current CBC analyst P.J. Stock says the jump
in ratings make it hard to determine whether the increased violence
is good or bad for the game.
”The NHL is kind of stuck here, because the politically correct
and public answer is `It’s not good. We don’t want to see that,”’
Stock said. ”So yes, they hate the fact that all this negativity
is surrounding the game. But at the same time, we have more people
watching, so there’s good and bad with it. I guess there’s no such
thing as bad press.”
AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., Dan
Gelston in Philadelphia, Josh Dubow in San Jose, Calif., and Rick
Gano in Chicago, contributed to this story.