NHL follows through on its word

BY foxsports • February 4, 2011

There will never be justice for what happened to the Bruins' Marc Savard, but at the very least, the NHL has followed through on its word to try to ensure that a similar situation never happens again.

Unfortunately for the Bruins' sake, that means a four-game suspension for Daniel Paille, who flew across the ice to level the Stars' Raymond Sawada in an aggressive, fight-filled game on Thursday night in Boston.

Though any such hits these days instantly get compared to Penguins forward Matt Cooke's hit on Savard or Flyers forward Mike Richards' hit on the Panthers' David Booth, the fact is they're all different. In Paille's case, Sawada was a guy heading into the Bruins' zone with his eyes locked on his own feet. For as long as there's been hockey, there's been guys with their heads down getting their "bell rung." In this instance, Paille was the one to do the ringing.

Yet, as Sawada lay in pain on the ice before eventually getting to the dressing room, as a hockey fan, you had to wonder if the time for such hits has passed.

When you think of Savard and all the 33-year-old has gone through since March, you have to wonder if that split second of excitement that comes from a monster hit is worth it. Sure, they make the crowd ooh and ah, but the long-term damages last longer. Much longer.

In Savard's case, we still don't know the true extent of the effects from a hit that very well may end up costing him his career. Was the hit worth that? Of course not.

The hit on Savard is an interesting one because at the time, there was clamoring for punishment for Cooke. Fans wanted fines, suspensions and the works for the hit, but little did we know at the time that we should have been arguing about something much larger than a slap on the wrist. There was a bigger issue at hand, and that's what the NHL decided to address.

The league met and created rules that banned dangerous hits from the game — hits exactly like the one Paille put on Sawada on Thursday night. As NESN analyst Andy Brickley said in the moment it was happening, the hit was "enough of a blind-side hit." These days, that's all it takes, and if the league is going to err in one direction, it's better to lean toward player safety and health. A year ago, Paille might not have even been penalized, but by the new letter of the law, what he did was illegal. In the long run, that's a good thing.

In the past, the hit might not even have made the postgame story, but now, it's something that even Paille's teammates understood was a violation of the rules.

"I mean, it's a bad hit, right?" Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said after the game. "That's what they're trying to get rid of. You can't be a hypocrite and complain about it when it happens to you and say it's fine when your teammate does it. It is a [hit to the head] that they're trying to get rid of. ... I just talked to Danny and he feels bad. It's tough. That backchecking forward, to make those kinds of hits now, it's so hard to do it in a clean fashion with the new rules. It is what it is."

Ference wasn't condemning his teammate, nor was he placing judgment. He was simply stating the facts of a new reality in the NHL.

The only argument against a punishment for Paille is that such hits have always been a part of the game and always should be a part of the game. But look at Thursday night's contest — three fights in the first four minutes, four fights in all, nine goals, several spectacular saves and a crowd of 17,565 fans who will never forget that night. Did the game really need a hit like Paille's on Sawada?

Frankly, it's hard to say yes, and if ever there was the rare time to give the NHL credit and say it did the right thing, it's now.



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