November 07, 2010
When I was a young lad going to the Meadowlands with my father for New Jersey Devils games, getting your fanny in the seat before warmups was mandatory.
It was a chance to count the numbers to see who was scratched. It was the first opportunity to see new faces, whether they were on your own team or the opponents'. But most of all, you had to be there for those occasional moments of gamesmanship among rivals.
The glares across the ice. The little bumps as the foes skated near the red line. The yapping from one team's pest to the other team's stars, and vice versa. It's no different than buying tickets near the sin bin so you could hear two professionals work with profanity like Frida Kahlo worked with depth of color.
Fast forward to 2010, and evidently this warmup taunting is an epidemic. Or the threat of one. On the docket of the NHL's general managers' meetings -- along with social media guidelines, on which we'll opine in the coming days -- will be a discussion about confrontations in warmups and the overall on-ice behavior of pests.
Is the subject heading for that discussion "ruining our fun?"
Confrontation in pre-game warmups is an issue that NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell loathes, and this topic will once again be tabled for discussion as the league considers options of how to better police the matter. Currently, the NHL doesn't have a game-by-game pre-game monitoring system, whereby either the assigned on-ice or off-ice officials strictly watch warm-up.
According to Dreger, what you just witnessed would result in a suspension for Boogaard under a GM meetings potential proposal. Seriously:
The possibility of an automatic suspension for any physical contact in the pre-game warmup is likely to be discussed.
Once again, excuse our nostalgic query, but how many games would Chico Resch, Ed Hospodar, Claude Lemieux(notes) and Shayne Corson have gotten back in 1987 for this bit of fun between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs? Ten? Twenty? Bertuzzi'd?
Ah, the bad 'ol days. But it's not just pests in warmups the GMs are concerned about, according to Dreger:
Along this theme, the role of NHL agitators and the trash talking and taunting that some use to bait their opposition will also generate discussion next week.
So what now? Language thresholds? Wives or girlfriends off-limits? Will Sean Avery be reduced to Ned Flanders levels of effective trash-talking? "I think you're a big dum-dum, neighbor-ino!"
But this is where the trend's heading for pests. On Puck Daddy Radio recently (listen here), we asked Derek Dorsett(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets about whether agitators can still get away with what they used to get away with in the NHL. He said:
"The referees are in a tough position. We've got the two referees on the ice now. Back in the day, you could have gotten away with a little bit more, coming back up the ice after a play in the offensive zone or in the D-zone. It's tougher to get away with sneaking around and doin' stuff."
While some fans find agitators and pests in the NHL nauseating, many others see their nefarious talents as essential parts of the game's psychological warfare. We'll be watching the GM meetings to see if any action is taken against taunting in the pregame or during the game. Life might get just a little more tepid in the NHL, depending on their actions