Thursday, October 3, 2013

Have the Leafs become goons?

Hockey goon Colton Orr

In his 211th professional fight, Montreal's George Parros went down for the count on Tuesday night, missing Maple Leafs enforcer Colton Orr with a wild haymaker and awkwardly hurling himself face-first into the ice as the bloodthirsty Bell Centre crowd, so thrilled with its new goon, roared.

- Damien Cox
Toronto Star, Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's early October and the NHL season has just begun.  The Maple Leafs have a talented team but they are behaving boorishly. On Sunday, September 22, Phil Kessel, who has just signed an eight-year contract extension with the club worth $64 million dollars, slashed away at Buffalo Sabres goon John Scott during a preseason game at the Air Canada Centre. On Tuesday October 1st (the same day he signed his lucrative contract extension), Kessel received a slap on the wrist from the NHL for his actions. He was suspended for only three preseason games but not a single regular season one.  As Greg Wyshynski put it in his online Puck Daddy post, "The National Hockey League on Tuesday endorsed the use of a swinging stick for self-defence, ad then for further retribution against an assailant."

During that fight-riddled game against Buffalo, Leafs forward David Clarkson jumped the boards to take part in a brawl.  The 29-year-old was suspended for 10 regular season games.  After receiving his suspension, Clarkson stated, "I sometimes make decisions with my heart, not my head.  I saw a teammate that I felt was in trouble, and my reaction was to help."

David Clarkson should think more with his head in the future, at least while he's on the ice.  Not only that, but if the brawl hadn't broken out in the first place, no player would have found it necessary to defend a teammate.  Brawls would soon cease if the NHL dealt more harshly with those who initiates them.  Why not send a fighter to the dressing room immediately and suspend him for multiple games?  Send a message that thuggery will not be tolerated.

To its credit, though, the NHL did fine Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolstan an undisclosed amount of money for being partially responsible for the melee (he sent out goon John Scott).  There should be more fines against coaches for contributing for brawls and they should be fined considerable amounts of money.  In the meantime, Buffalo forward Corey Tropp is out of the Sabres lineup indefinitely while being evaluated for a possible concussion.  Tropp suffered a broken jaw and his head was bloodied during a fight with Toronto forward Jamie Devane.  It was that altercation that sparked the ensuing melee.

David Clarkson was contrite about not being available to his team for ten regular season games, but not for fighting.  He was actually proud of himself for adhering to "the code."  Then there was Tuesday night's ruckus between George Parros and Colton Orr. If the Leafs keep this up, they will be labelled The Bay Street Bullies.  Is this what the National Hockey League has come to in 2013?  Are hockey fans so depraved and bloodthirsty that they are clamouring to see someone beaten to a pulp or die?  Is such raw violence all that they crave?  Will the league put an end to it?  Alas, Gary Betmann's NHL refuses to do so.  It is more interested in making money and attracting U.S. fans by promoting the game as a brutal sport.

As Damien Cox pointed out yesterday in his excellent Star column, "The more buckets of blood, the more the NHL promotes this stuff, catering to the lowest common denominator."  The media aren't any better. Many sports commentators insist that it's part of the game and that it's necessary and unavoidable. Television sports highlights are filled with hockey fighter.  They are constantly rerun while announcers gleefully provide a blow by blow description of the event.

As for the players, they steadfastly adhere to and defend their so-called precious "code."  Where is the NHL player with enough courage to stand up and say that fighting doesn't have to be part of the game?  Where is the player or coach with the gumption to admit that the NHL could put a stop to it but doesn't want to do so?  Instead, player after player delivers the same old party line.  It's always been a part of the game, they say ad nauseum.  We have to stick up for our team mates, they say.

Here are the words of George Parros' teammate, Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges.

(Parros) put himself on the line, he sacrificed himself.  If you asked George tomorrow, he'd say just because he got hurt you don't take fighting out of hockey.

You can bet that if Parros had died, Gorges would have repeated that same mantra at the funeral - only he would have said, "If George were still with us, he'd say just because he died you don't take fighting out of hockey."

As for Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, here's what he had to say about the Corr-Parros donnybrook.

He (Parros) defended his teammates.  It's hard for the players to emotionally get back to the same level (afterwards).  It's an event nobody feels very good about.

Well, coach, if you don't feel very good about it, why do you encourage it?  That's right - encourage.  You don't just condone this type of behaviour, you encourage it.  You preach this brand of so-called hockey to the rooftops.  If a player doesn't comply, he ends up in your doghouse.  He is branded a coward and a chicken by Don Cherry and his ilk.

Can't something be done?  What about the NHL Players' Association?  Aren't they concerned about players getting serious concussions or becoming maimed or even dying?  Sadly, it seems the NHLPA is more interested in protecting the jobs of goons.  By the way, I prefer the word "goon" to "enforcers" or "tough guys."  Let's call a spade a spade!

- Joanne