March 09, 2010
This may absolutely shock you, but NESN Boston Bruins announcer Jack Edwards went a wee bit over the top in his reaction to Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke's(notes) head-shot on Marc Savard(notes), which Darren Dreger of TSN reports may have ended Savard's season. (The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that Cooke has "reached out" to Savard; wonder if they connected, with Savard being out to lunch and all.)
Hyperbole from the man who gave us maniacal on-air laughter at the expense of Flyers fans? Overstatement from the voice that compared a playoff victory for the Bruins over the Montreal Canadiens to the Revolutionary War, as in "234 years ago yesterday, a bunch of rag-tag farmers stood up against the greatest fighting force in the world?" We're sure you're in stunned disbelief.
On NESN.com, Edwards opined on the Cooke hit and lack of swift discipline from the NHL, opening with this prologue:
Soon after the United States of America won its independence -- to be free and equal among all nations -- John Adams and Thomas Jefferson paid an official visit to the Court of King George III. The king literally turned his back on them. Adams and Jefferson, having had their knowledge and notions of aristocratic mistreatment reaffirmed, were united in their hatred of the king and all his loyal subjects ever after. They were right then, and they are right now.
Any resemblance to events, people or places in the following work of fiction is purely coincidental.
Having established that metaphor as the bar, Edwards quickly clears it with a 1,500 word parable about, ahem, "Slidsy Cornsbie of the Porkburgh Pinkins" and his injury at the shoulder of a marginal NHL winger.
It could be the most compelling argument we've read for the abolishment of the caste system in NHL supplemental discipline, but it's more likely the most bat-poop cynical rant on the matter you'll have read in quite some time.
From the mind, and poison pen, of Jack Edwards. Remember that "Cornsbie" is Marc Savard, "Porkburgh" is Boston and Jack Edwards is swinging for the fences:
Cornsbie is examined by team doctors and found to have suffered a Grade 2 concussion. Not only will he be out of action, but the team won't even evaluate his condition for four to five days. It is a long-term injury, jeopardizing the team's season.
The senior league official enjoys the Florida sunset, not ruling on the status of the player who knocked Cornsbie unconscious. There is outrage in Porkburgh. "What is keeping the league from making up its mind on what so clearly was a felonious act?" fans wonder.
Porkburgh's organization seethes. The offending player has hidden behind the instigator rule for his entire career. He was suspended in 2004 for spearing. He was suspended in January of 2009 for what the senior league official described as "a deliberate check to the head area" of a player. He was suspended in November of the current season for what the league official described as a "result of a blow delivered to the head" of another opponent. Previous punishment obviously did not change the offending player's behavior. Previous punishment had the same effect as making a wayward son pay for his own gas to drive Dad's Lamborghini to the prom. Son got a speeding ticket on the way home. Dad told him not to do it again, again. The state police radar clocked the boy doing 91. Son said it felt like he was going 45.
Edwards closes with an "us against the world" thesis, based on the NHL's alleged lack of concern for Boston ... er, Porkburgh:
Porkburgh tried to take the high road for two years, but saw the league do little or nothing to defend its players. It saw one player nearly killed on the ice, another one having his face driven into the glass with five seconds left in a two-goal game, another cross-checked across the face in the closing minute of a playoff series -- only to have the senior league official take little or no action. And now this.
Justice delayed was so disrespectful as to be justice denied. It was arrogance they would never forget.
Read the whole opus for the full effect, but know this: No matter how crazy Edwards sells this, it's symbolic of the incredibly intense passion this "hits to the head" debate creates. It's the biggest hot-button issue in hockey, and battle lines are drawn and redrawn with every debate.
I had more than a few battles Monday: on the blog, on the radio, and especially on Twitter. To restate the thesis: I'm in favor of a (clearly defined) ban on blindside hits, getting the Cooke hit and the Richards hit (which I'll continue to defend) out of the game. Perhaps even as the first step to something larger.
I'm not in favor of banning all contact with the shoulder to the head on hits, because it would penalize what are essentially good hockey plays (Doug Weight's(notes) hit on Brandon Sutter(notes), close to the blindside but just a nasty open-ice hit) or the types of collisions that make hockey more entertaining for me (Ovechkin's hit on Jagr in Vancouver, which by the letter of the IIHF law was a head shot and should have been penalized).
I spoke with Keith Primeau when we were on TSN's Off The Record about the head shots issue as it relates to fighting, because I have a problem with fans or pundits screaming "protect the brains!" one minute and then having a winking endorsement of fists slamming against those brains the next. I find it an illogical stance, from a player safety standpoint.
Primeau said the difference was that a player doesn't ask to be hit to the head, but willfully accepts the risk in a fight. My argument is the player accepts risk by playing in the NHL, and that the League can only do so much to protect them in what is an inherently violent sport.
This belief, of course, puts me in League with Mike Milbury, which make me want to bathe in Listerine. But it's the way I enjoy the game, and hope to continue to. I think 99 percent of hockey arguments stem from that notion: What do we believe NHL hockey should look like, or should feel like? All of our experiences, as puckheads, are so divergent that it's no wonder these debates get protracted and, ultimately, quite heated.