James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Hall of a Temper

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Before we get too deep into this, I’d like to first state that it’s easy to judge a professional athlete from your ivory perch/high horse/lofty tower. No matter how well (or poorly) you skated backward until it became clear that your profession wouldn’t involve manipulating pieces of vulcanized rubber with a wooden implement, you really don’t know what it’s like to be in their skates. Maybe you actually have a much tougher, high-stress job, but odds are ... there aren’t any cameras in your face.


(If you’re some kind of celebrity reading this for fantasy hockey advice, I’d just like to say “Hi” and maybe ask if you can get me in touch with Jeff Bridges. He seems pretty cool.)


Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that I acknowledge the “it’s easy for me to say” retort. As someone who has damaged my own property for the most mundane of frustrations, it seems silly for me to point the finger of blame.


So, maybe, instead, it’s best to approach this situation from a softer/rehabilitative approach.


Hi, Taylor Hall. You’re a fantastic hockey player, arguably the sole Edmonton Oilers star whose star status is the toughest to dispute.


Surely at least some of your brilliance comes from the very aggression that brought you to this imaginary therapy session. They call you “The Wrecking Ball” or some old-timey, ultra-cool alteration for a reason, after all.


But you gotta cool it, kid. Unless you’re perfectly fine developing a sordid reputation that tends to cost you a few game checks here and there.




In case you went to bed at a reasonable hour (particularly in the East Coast), you might have missed much of what happened in the Edmonton Oilers’ eventual loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday. The most important parts for Taylor Hall purposes came when Martin Hanzal absolutely clobbered him in the first period and then Hall (seemingly) stewed for the rest of the game, finally losing it just long enough to deliver a fairly reprehensible slash on Zbynek Michalek. (Click here for the check and the slash.)


It’s sort of like the “kick the dog” transference bit, if the dog was a useful defenseman.


In an ideal world, I’d say that Hall would get a rubber stamp suspension for that. This is the NHL, however, so I’ll be honest with you: I’m not certain. Sure, Hall received a two-game suspension for his ridiculous targeting of Cal Clutterbuck, but that seemed like a slap on the wrist for a rather risky hit.


Now, again, maybe Hall was just doing what anyone would do. Maybe both fairly egregious-looking acts were somehow accidental. Maybe the Daily Dose is a brief and infrequent column that never diverges off the path of straightforward banter.


Still, from my convenient spot in an air conditioned place with HDTVs and other conveniences, it looks like Hall needs to be taught a lesson by the league. He clearly didn’t absorb that two-game suspension, or at least he didn’t retain it for very long.




Really, though, the NHL shouldn’t be the one sending the message. The league hasn’t exactly shown a great track record of being proactive in dealing with its repeat offenders; the fact that Anton Volchenkov isn’t a repeat offender merely because of the fact that his last bad hit came more than 18 months ago just shows how damaged this discipline system really is.


(I imagine some of the bite is taken away by the appeals process, which is just one of those elements of our hyper-litigious reality that I believe most of us wish would keep its dirty nose out of our recreation time ... but still.)


The people who really should take this as a cry for help are the Edmonton Oilers and Taylor Hall. Surely Oilers fans - or probably Oilers haters - can fill in the blanks, but off the top of my head, here are some blow-up moments from the young star that hurt him almost as much (and sometimes more) than it hurt his victims:

  • Wednesday’s altercation.

  • That hit on Clutterbuck.

  • A borderline hit in the AHL during the lockout that nearly brought a suspension.

  • He finished his rookie season prematurely after hurting himself in a fight he later admitted was ill-advised.


Hall’s a young guy at 21 and a wonderful player. His stat line is a dream, with great points (41 in 37 games) and fantastic peripherals (127 SOG and 29 PIM).


Again, I’m sure that ferocity is part of what helps drive him to play at such a high level. You certainly don’t want to drain him of all his verve so he ends up resembling a sad, lost beast (Exhibit A: Todd Bertuzzi).


But it’s clear that Hall’s anger gets the best of him, and if it isn’t at least reined in a little bit, it could cost him a lot more someday. Maybe he gets suspended during a playoff series (if the Oilers ever get their act together, aka fire Steve Tambellini, Kevin Lowe and so on ...). Perhaps he’ll follow in Bertuzzi’s footsteps and go over the line in a way that transcends normal ire.*




Many of the great athletes in sports take the offseason as a time to add to their bag of tricks. LeBron James has transformed his repertoire with admirable panache. It’s been noted that John Tavares has worked diligently on his oft-criticized skating as part of his transformation from very good player to possible Great Player. You’ve probably heard a million mentions of Sidney Crosby’s faceoff improvements.


For Hall, let me suggest a summer project: find your happy place. Maybe it’s holding your breath and counting to 10. You fill in the piece of the puzzle.


If nothing else, don’t slash people or cheap shot them anymore. Please?


Jump for mostly lighter reading.


* - When you look at guys like Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres, it seems like they’ve been shamed as much by public bile as they have been by the meatiest suspensions. Though the meatiest suspensions are often the only way to permeate especially thick facades.


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James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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