December 22, 2008
When it comes to analyzing the NHL's system of discipline, it's foolhardy to play the "if Player X had done Action Y, then he would have received Punishment Z" game of hypothetical comparisons.
One, because acts of hockey violence are like snowflakes, in the sense that no two are alike and they quickly melt from memory by the time the next one arrives. But also because it's pointless to pretend that justice is blind to reputation, renown and fundamental political biases.
We all know that if Patrick Kane had said "sloppy seconds," it'd probably already be on a T-shirt sold near Wrigley. And if Boris Valabik had punched Sidney Crosby in the undercarriage, he'd already be serving his suspension.
The fans have taken notice. The media have taken notice. The Thrashers certainly have taken notice.
The NHL's disciplinarians? Not so much. At least publicly.
From the Atlanta Journal Constitution's NHL notebook on Sunday, here are some candid comments about the Pittsburgh Penguins star and his cheap shots last week:
SID VICIOUS: The good news is that Boris Valabik didn't even feel it Thursday night when Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby was punching him from behind, between Valabik's legs, in a sensitive area it's not gentlemanly to punch. But Valabik did hear about it from his teammates, and he watched it on video. "I've never seen anything like that before," the Thrashers defenseman said. "When I saw it on the video, I felt embarrassed for Crosby a little bit. If that's the way he plays hockey, that's all right. It was what it was. That's what he did. I don't really want to comment on that too much. It's kind of embarrassing."
CROSBY, PART 2: Crosby served two minutes for roughing. "Here's the weird thing," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "If he had punched him in the face, would he have gotten five minutes [for fighting]? A punch to the groin, is that two minutes? I'm going to have to phone [NHL vice president] Colin Campbell and get a verification on that rule." To make matters worse, Valabik was engaged in a face-to-face wrestling match with Kris Letang when Crosby struck. "I thought [Crosby] deserved more, because Boris was engaged with another person," Anderson said. "I think it's the third man in. But I'm not the referee, and I can't decide what the rules are."
I contacted the NHL today about the Crosby incident, and received the stock answer from a spokesman:
"Hockey Ops in Toronto reviews everything. And the league does not comment on supplementary discipline until and unless it is initiated."
Perhaps we've been spoiled by the swift hand of justice in the Sean Avery affair, but it's been nearly four days since the Crosby incident against the Thrashers. Since then, the Penguins have already played another game and the NHL has put out a glowing press release touting Crosby as the all-time biggest vote-getter in NHL All-Star Game history. Combine that with the fact that the Penguins are on national television tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, and it's rather far-fetched to believe we'll be seeing Crosby suspended or punished for his unsportsmanlike actions.
Which is, of course, disgraceful. Crosby should be suspended for this, and the only reasons he hasn't been are because no one was injured and the video hasn't become the crossover sensation Avery's press conference was.
Not that some media and blogosphere haven't given it a go: Real GM, The Sporting Blog, the NY Daily News (in a power-rankings note), FanHouse and The Bleacher Report are among those who have commented on the gutter-punching. It made Deadspin as well, but even that failed to generate suitable mainstream coverage.
Again, just to reset the scene: The biggest star in the National Hockey League was caught on video going Jack Dempsey on another player's groin ... from behind. I know it's not a fashion magazine intern making a sex joke in the locker room, but doesn't Crosby's behavior affect the image of the game (and that of its poster boy) in some negative way? Even a little bit?
Please don't read this as anti-Crosby. I think this incident is actually the kind of thing that the NHL needs from the kid, who works better as a heel than he does as a hero. (I've made the comparison before, and once more with feeling: Crosby as a fan-favorite is like The Rock when he was Rocky Maivia; Crosby as the whiney, quasi-cheater is like The Rock as The Rock -- immensely more compelling and charismatic. Avery's rant about needing villains? No one works better than Crosby.)
But a punch to store is still a punch to the store. It deserved more than a roughing call. And if Crosby isn't going to get more than that, then the NHL's system of discipline continues to be ... ahem ... "tainted."