I have finally reached my breaking point with the NHL.
I have defended her from all challengers, and all critics.
Today, that changes. I am ashamed of her: the brass, those handing out discipline, and a large group of my fellow fans that seem to think victims are more at fault than criminals.
In a 4-0 game that was clearly over, Carolina's Scott Walker sucker punched Boston's Aaron Ward. I refused to put sucker punch in quotations, and before you start to tell me it was Aaron Ward’s fault for getting punched in the head in a fight he clearly wasn’t a willing participant in, please stop. Blaming victims is a sad, sad practice. It’s like Walker shooting Ward and then arguing it was Ward’s fault for getting hit by the bullet.
From now on, before a hockey fan tries to defend a cowardly or gutless act, say what you intend to type out loud and realize how ridiculous you sound.
I see hockey as a proud game, played by strong, physical, and proud men. I refuse to let a great game that prides itself on doing the right thing twist that into some distorted logic where the perpetrator is the hero.
The NHL is consistently inconsistent. They simply cannot process the information in front of them. They lack the ability to enforce their own rules and further their own player safety agenda.
There is the link to the act in question, just in case anyone has yet to see what I am talking about. Let us start at the beginning of where this goes off the track.
Not only has Colin Campbell managed to not find Walker’s gutless cheap shot to the head as worthy of an extended absence, it is quite to the contrary. He is, in fact, such a dolt that he rescinded the mandatory one-game suspension that is called for in conjunction with NHL rule No. 56.
In case you are unfamiliar with Rule 56, it is the instigator rule, the same instigator rule that Gary Bettman has vowed to keep in the game, even against his strictest critics. Bettman has taken heat from hockey purists for years now regarding the controversial rule. Now, when the rule calls for a one-game suspension, the league allows Colin Campbell to back off and take the teeth out of it.
So just so we are clear, the league that refuses to suspend Scott Walker for what is clearly a shot to the head against a defenseless player is the same league that suspended Donald Braschear for five games and Milan Lucic one game earlier in the playoffs using the exact same justification.
I hope we are on the same page when I say hits to the head are unacceptable, and should have cost Lucic one game and Braschear five. The frustration comes from the NHL’s trademark blundering style, in which it once again has rationalized an unacceptable act and its lemming fans have followed suit in defending the indefensible.
I hear people piping up with the ridiculous notion that Aaron Ward should’ve been aware of Walker being on the ice and it is his fault for not holding his hands up to defend himself.
I would contend this thuggery is unwarranted and unacceptable, and that Ward, who was clearly engaged with Matt Cullen, shouldn’t have had to defend himself against a third man piling in and proceeding to punch him while Ward was clearly not a willing participant in the confrontation with Walker.
So offensive was the act that the referee, knowing full well that a one-game suspension would be applied, still assessed a two-minute instigator penalty in the last three minutes of the third period.
So sad and pathetic is the NHL brass that they overruled the referee and instead imposed a stiff $2,500 (tongue firmly planted in cheek) fine to punish the offender.
The $2,500 fine is even more insulting, as it is the NHL recognizing that the act was in fact punishable. So they now make up the rules as they go along, stumble their way through discipline meetings, and make up fines and suspensions when the discipline for this situation was clearly on the books.
So when it’s all said and done, the NHL has once again got it wrong. An aggressive act against a player who was clearly not expecting it and they downgrade the suspension and allow people to blame the victim.
With the lack of enforcement, they are supporting the notion that Ward should have put his hands up to fight and responded to a gutless attack by Walker.
Let’s break down what really happened.
Like I said, say it out loud.
Scott Walker was clearly frustrated, after three games where the Canes had taken it to the Bruins they were getting it handed back to them.
With time running out in the third period facing a 4-0 deficit, Walker irresponsibly let his frustrations boil over and sucker punched a player that was unwilling to fight him.
It is bush-league acts like Walker’s and the poor handling of the fallout that are the reason that a great game like hockey wallows in mediocrity. My words may in fact be harsh, but I have chosen them carefully.
The NHL talks about expanding its brand and taking on new fans. I am not sure how you are supposed to do that when the ones you currently have are starting to consider you a joke.
(In an informal poll of 20 players by TSN's Darren Dreger: 14 said the act in questions was a cheap shot, and of the 6 that said it wasn't a cheap shot, 2 responded with it was a dirty play that was a suspendable offense.)