Every spring, I anxiously await the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I badger my ignorant friends who's televisions are fixated seemingly every sport except "the coolest game on Earth." I do my best to convert a few of them into bonafide hockey fans by the time that beautiful trophy is awarded in mid-June.
This season though, in the first week of action, I sit here mortified with what I've been subjected to.
The National Hockey League, always considered a fraternal order of the finest frozen pond-perusers this world has to offer, has turned the Stanley Cup Playoffs into a sideshow of egregious acts that have jeopardized the very fabric of what the League has built itself on: respect for your fellow competitor.
While everyone focuses on the deplorable job of controlling this mayhem by NHL officials and Senior Vice President of Player Safety, few have wagged the finger at the biggest offenders, the players themselves.
Tonight's Blackhawks-Coyotes tilt, a series that's already seen a player's safety come to the forefront due to an illegal hit, featured the most flagrant of offenses we've seen in the past few days. That's saying something.
Raffi Torres, a player who has a list of prior offenses as long as Al Capone's rap sheet, went hurtling through center ice and propelled himself into an unsuspecting Marian Hossa just a few feet from the Blackhawks' bench. Hossa, without the puck for what seemed like a lifetime, was caught in a defenseless position as Torres' shoulder made direct contact with the side of his head. Moments later, the Blackhawks winger was taken off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital.
Despite the fact that there was no penalty called on Torres, there will certainly be some kind of supplemental discipline from Shanahan. But what's the point?
At the end of the day, these are people playing a game for a living. We can all sit here and pretend that getting your name engraved on a big, shiny silver cup is the ultimate prize until perspective comes barrelling through the door, ruining the ignorance party for everyone.
The NHL has never apologized for the product they put on the ice. They market the fact that the high level of competition sometimes yields injuries. That's understood by everyone involved and accepted as part of the game.
But not this. In the past few years, the league has gone from a celebration of great talents like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the Sedin twins to a frightful exhibition of goonery dominated by Torres, Matt Carkner, Arron Asham and the artist formerly known as Matt Cooke.
Awareness for hits to the head is at an all time high as concussions have become an epidemic around the league. Doesn't that make it all the more confusing that these players continue to act out, and now with a bigger frequency?
In the past week alone, there have been seven suspensions handed out by Shanahan. Seven. That's as many as there were in the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago. That seven, by the way, doesn't include the lengthy one surely headed Torres' way as a repeat offender.
The real problem is that it's not just the "enforcers" that are getting in on the dirty work, either. Torres is just the latest to grab headlines for all the wrong reasons.
- Nicklas Backstrom, fresh off a debilitating concussion that kept him out for over 40 games, delivered a stick to the face of Bruins forward Rich Peverley in game three of the Washington-Boston series. He was given a match penalty and a one-game suspension.
- Shea Weber, arguably the best defenseman in the game today, decided that in the waning seconds of game 1 of the Predators' series with the Red Wings, it was more important to jettison Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass rather than take control of a loose puck. For his efforts, he was fined $2,500, the maximum fine allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement, but was not suspended.
- Daniel Sedin is still nursing a concussion suffered after he took an elbow delivered by Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith in a game on March 20. Keith was given a five-game suspension and has since returned to Chicago's lineup. Meanwhile, the Presidents' Trophy winners are in a deep 3-0 hole to the Kings.
- Andrew Shaw ran over Mike Smith behind the Coyotes net in game two, leaving Smith momentarily still. He shook it off and stayed in the game but was a last-minute decision to start game three. Shaw was given a three-game suspension.
- James Neal, who has been the most effective Penguins forward in the series to this point, will sit out game four thanks to the flying shoulder he delivered to Sean Couturier in game three. Yeah, the game was out of hand at that point. We get it. You want to take out some aggression? Fine. You want to attempt to deliberately injure a 19-year old kid? You don't belong in the league. I don't care how many goals you scored this year.
- Earlier in that game, Arron Asham reacted to a clean hit by Brayden Schenn by catching him in the mouth with the shaft of his stick. Then, as if to say "had enough yet?" he dropped on top of the Philadelphia rookie and delivered a body shot or two for good measure.
The Flyers and Penguins hate each other as much as anyone possibly can. That sure does make for some must-see television. But no game, no prize, no trophy can justify using your hockey stick as a weapon to retaliate to your teammate getting knocked off his feet.
Rivals my ass. That's just inhumane.
The old adage "playing with a complete disregard for your own safety" used to describe the honor of blocking a big, booming slap shot or going to fight for a loose puck in the corner. Now, it's been replaced entirely by something along the lines of "playing with a complete disregard for everyone else's safety."
At this point, the only solution is to take make hockey a non-contact sport. That's right. Take all the hitting out of the game. These players can't handle playing the game fairly. If they want to act like children throwing a temper tantrum, then let the league treat them as such.
Or better yet, perhaps we should replace the post-playoff series handshake line with a boxing ring inside a steel cage.
The players have disgraced not only themselves but every other man who has considered it an honor to play in the NHL over the years. Today's league is completely devoid of honor and respect for your fellow competitor. Sportsmanship, above all else, used to be one of the ideals that made this game great. Now it's a sick joke.
So this year, rather than imploring my friends to jump aboard the NHL bandwagon, maybe it's time for me to get off at the next stop. It's the only honorable thing left to do.