When a pit bull attacks - and worst case scenario, even kills - an innocent dog or human being, it’s natural to hate the pit bull. “They’re just too dangerous” some might think. Others might call them bloodthirsty animals.
(And a vocal minority thinks that the greater populace should face outrageous risks so they can own their favorite breed of pups.)
Here’s the thing, though: the pit bull might be tearing out that jugular vein, but it’s the person holding/dropping the leash who’s most responsible. More precisely, it’s the person who brought that dog into the community who is most responsible.
When a pit bull does such a thing, the dog is put to death, while the owner may be sued. But at least there’s a possibility for culpability. So why should NHL teams be allowed to let their versions of pit bulls run free, hurt innocent - and more elegant - beings, and then just put the dog down and move on with their lives? (While often buying a new pit bull, no questions asked!)
The NHL’s version of pit bulls are Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke (or at least the Cooke who didn’t receive his supposed “training”), Patrick Kaleta and, as Tuesday showed, Maxim Lapierre, who might have greatly impaired San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle’s career by doing what he does. And this situation was absolutely preventable, and despicable, in a dizzying amount of ways.
You know, kind of like a totally unnecessary pit bull attack.
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DON’T ACT SHOCKED
During a rare night off, I was able to watch the St. Louis Blues trample the Nashville Predators at a sports bar. While there were many thoughts that flowed through my head (such as: “You can put any sauce in the world on a wing, but it won’t be tastier than original buffalo flavoring,” and “I can’t believe all these NHL teams with systems that can turn average goalies into solid ones are really paying a huge premium for slightly better goalies” …), there was one that really stuck out:
What, in the world, is a marginal NHL player like Maxim Lapierre doing on a genuinely outstanding team like the Blues?
That proved I can still be naive about sports; of course I should have known: he’s there to periodically injure other, better players.
Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. It’s not like Lapierre leaves the locker room each night and slaps a warped version of Notre Dame’s “Play like a Champion” banner (only this one says “Injure a Potential Champion”). Surely guys like Lapierre do … something … else. (Just wait for a Matt Cooke apologists to spring forth with a fireside chat about his penalty-killing or buying-in Sharks fans to rave about Raffi Torres’ forechecking prowess …)
But, either way, NHL teams aren’t oblivious. Like a pit bull or assault rifle owner, they shouldn’t really be shocked when their new pet does what it was basically created to do. Some hope that such a day never comes and some secretly dream about it, but none can claim total ignorance to the possibility. But they do it anyway because so little is being done to clean up such garbage.
THE WRONG PEOPLE ARE BEING ASKED TO REFORM
Other sports have their chronic evildoers, but I can’t think of many - if any - that employ guys who basically serve that role and that role alone.
In hockey, when you sign a guy like Lapierre, you know what you’re doing. It’s not like he’ll play 18 minutes per night; he’s there to make the world either a slightly or extremely less pleasant place … and the NHL looks the other way, because it only cares about punishing actions after they happen, rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.
You know why? There’s no punishment for an NHL team when a pit bull does what a pit bull does. Patrick Kaleta received a 10-game suspension for his very-Patrick-Kaleta hit on Jack Johnson. He’ll lose somewhere in the $150K area for his transgression, and maybe that massive blow to his wallet will make him reform himself into … a marginal NHL player who stops injuring superior players after he’s already injured a few.
(Seriously, how many Matt Cookes would you give up for one Marc Savard? Ugh.)
But here’s the thing: the Sabres are just going to lose a player who annoys other teams and does little else, not a guy who gives them a significantly better chance to win. They’ve already played two games without Kaleta; in one, they lost by one goal to a glaringly superior Minnesota Wild team, while they finally won their first game of the season last night (albeit in a shootout).
Kaleta is a drop in the bucket designed to leave stars bleeding on the ice. Fantastic.
TEAMS OFTEN LOSE LITTLE IN SUSPENSIONS
More often than not, any suspension in the world can’t truly be fair punishment for the quality player the other team lost. How many Lapierre games are worth one Dan Boyle game? Is there any universe where a team would be OK losing Marian Hossa instead of Torres in a playoff series?
Think for a second about the best teams in the league, and even ones who are merely good enough to contend for a playoff spot. Is there a single franchise that doesn’t employ an outright jerk? So it’s not like there are a few carnival barkers amongst a bunch of buttoned-up sophisticates; some are a bigger part of the problem, but they’re more or less all a part of the problem. And then they scream and cry when this shameful practice hurts their team.
SWITCHING THE RISK
If the NHL’s serious about limiting awful hits, they need to target the real problem: the people holding the leash, not the wild animal on it. Unless there are fines that go unreported, Kaleta will be out $150K and the Sabres won’t miss a dime. The same goes with the Blues regarding Lapierre, and maybe the Sharks when Torres comes back, and on and on and on ...
Instead, if you really want to crack down on this nonsense, make an illegal hit hurt the culprits a whole lot more. Fine the player, coach and teams the same amount, or work out some dopey equation that makes it a fair deterrent (coaches don’t get paid a ton, in many cases, and aren’t always at fault). Better yet, hit them where it really hurts and add salary cap penalties and roster size limits to the slap-on-the-wrist fines when a player steps out of line.
Will a contender really roll the dice with a Torres-type if they think his reckless, unnecessary headhunting can hurt them as much as it hurts his victims? I’m gambling on “no” or at least “not the smarter teams.”
Sadly, the NHL and NHLPA are probably always going to be too selfish to ever do anything as bold or pragmatic to limit these horrendous hits. After all, NHL teams don’t want to risk that one time it might hurt their own team while the NHLPA are terrible enablers (example: they’ll defend the job of enforcer because it opens up jobs … for guys who open themselves up to enormous risks for head injuries). It’s the blind playing freeze tag with the blind.
And you know what? Fantasy owners lose out, because it’s almost always irrelevant schlubs taking out legitimate stars. Boyle’s a good-to-great fantasy defenseman who might be out long-term, and he’s just the latest victim. So chew on that.
After the jump: quick hits from a night full of games and non-Boyle injury notes.