Necessary Roughness: Hockey Playoffs or Slay-offs?


If you turned on hockey for the first time this season in the last week, you may have been looking for high intensity.

Chances are good you found it. The NHL playoffs are unlike any other when it comes to break-neck speed, competitive play, and electric atmospheres.

However, you probably noticed something else as well. You probably saw some vicious play that resulted in injury. Maybe you witnessed a fight against an unwilling participant. Perhaps you winced at a cross-check to someone’s head or neck.

In the NHL, high intensity can sometimes translate to violence. It’s the way the game has been played for years and years. Many novice fans are drawn to the game when they see two guys bludgeoning each other in an allowed fight.

During the course of the season, the fights are of the regulatory kind. Much like the tit-for-tat beaning of batters in baseball, hockey has an unwritten code. Each team possesses someone to take care of the problems that cross over the lines of the unwritten.

The police of the NHL are sometimes the officials, but the players who police the game carry just as much, if not more weight, with their fists.

Every season, there’s a series or two that gets violent; that’s just how it goes. It can be between division foes or teams who usually see each other in the playoffs. The series goes on and the violence is overlooked.

However, this season has been downright ridiculous. Players have been hurt through intentional malice and undisciplined hockey in almost every series. The phrase ‘intent to injure’ has come up quite a bit through it all.

Intent to injure? In the same sports world that just blew up Gregg Williams for putting bounties on players? Why does hockey get a pass?

To be plain and simple, there’s no way to see it as plain and simple.

While there is little doubt that the sport’s violent nature helps to draw viewers, it’s not necessary for the health of the game. Every time an incident occurs, the hockey world goes back to the drawing board to figure out what the best punishment should be.

The thing is, the punishment is erratic and inconsistent. And that’s why hockey finds itself in the mess.

It’s tangled between old owners and general managers who believe in ‘old-time hockey’ and a new school of thinking that appreciates offensive talent.

Old-time hockey consists of brawling when needed. The last man standing wins, and only the strong survive.

It’s no breaking news to anyone who has watched hockey, but for those first tuning in, it can be a major turnoff. In the NHL’s quest to remove itself from the niche and into the mainstream, the tweaks are trying to be made.

Yet, they aren’t being made efficiently. If an injury decides a suspension, it seems like the rulings are based on effect rather than cause. While the diagnosis of a player will forever be taken into account, there’s no understanding as to why.

In a game between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, Rangers forward Carl Hagelin hit Daniel Alfredsson in the head with an elbow. Alfredsson left the game and Hagelin was suspended for three games.

At the end of a Nashville Predators and Detroit matchup, Preds defenseman Shea Weber headlocked Henrik Zetterburg and slammed his head into the glass.

Both plays screamed intent to injure. However, Zetterburg was fine after the play, unlike Alfredsson. Weber was fined $2,500.

When the intent to injure appears similar and one player catches a small fine while another is suspended, there’s a problem.

If the hockey fans have problems with the consistency of rulings, that’s an issue. One can only imagine what a first-time viewer would think.

The NHL playoffs present fantastic hockey and the game’s greatest skill on display. Right now, that skill is taking a backseat to dirty play, shoddy officiating, and ridiculous rulings.

It’s a mess, and no one knows who will clean it all up. What everyone does know, however, is that it needs to start getting cleaned up now.

5 Replies to “Necessary Roughness: Hockey Playoffs or Slay-offs?”

  1. Good stuff Trible. I wrote about this seasons playoffs being the best I can remember. Not because of the argumentative reasons but because the games are so intense and physical. I love the fact that the players are playing like it really means something. So often teams are just ok with getting there, but these guys are playing like it means something. Even if they have to fight for it.

  2. I'm just throwing this out there, even it seems flat out ridiculous.

    Does anyone think that despite Shannahan's efforts on penalties in the regular season, that teams believed he would somehow lighten up in the playoffs considering he was once in the trenches?

  3. Excellent piece. You hit the nail on the head with the inconsistency of discipline. The league is tryin to remove dangerous, intentionally harmful hits, especially to the head, yet the punishments almost seem to be based on the result, not the action. Weber should have been suspended. Hagelin & caromed should have been suspended & asham & Neal should be suspended, but shanny & the NHL seem to just arbitrarily decide who gets to sit & who gets to play.

    I love physical, even hateful hockey, but this mess has to be stopped. There is no more honor in the game. Players just lose their heads and go wild. That's not good for hockey or hockey fans

  4. Yes, Jason I think that's exactly right. Also, the NHL can't have it both ways. They can't say, "Oh we hate concussions, lets do all we can to prevent them," and then rule on hits based on severity of injury. Just because someone isn't injured doesn't mean that type of hit doesn't encourage injury and will in the future from the player who escaped suspension the first time. It's a slippery slope and right now the NHL is skidding down it.

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