Hitting the Nail on the Head. . .Sort Of
I know James Duthie fairly well, and have even worked with him on occasion.
But I have no idea about the TSN broadcaster's views on head shots in hockey.
That, needless to say, was one of the strengths of Duthie's intriguing interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday night.
We got to hear what Bettman had to say on the issue. Not what Duthie thought.
It was very different than the Ron MacLean approach on HNIC, which is to make the sure the world first understands your point-of-view and then force the interviewee to disagree with it while constantly interrupting them and asking slanted "Well, Grapes Says" questions.
Some like one style of interviewing, some like the other. It's a question of taste, I suppose.
But Duthie's questioning of Bettman was particularly well done because it illustrated the political commish, adroitly steering clear of ever actually taking a strong position on an issue of controversy or one on which there is a great deal of disagreement.
No wonder he's lasted so long as NHL boss. Somebody should introduce him to David Braley.
Bettman started by giving a spirited defence of the way in which the league now deals with hits to the head, which is not to deal with them at all but instead label them to be "clean" under the strict terms of the rule book.
He's always sensitive to being called an American trying to redesign Canada's game, so when it comes to certain issues Bettman loves to trot out the "always been part of the game" argument. Forget the fact one of his greatest unilateral calls as commissioner was to force-feed four-on-four overtime upon the league, a scheme that had never been widely used previously but has been a great success.
He can lean towards the innovative. But he can also be the champion of the so-called purist, depending on the winds.
Bettman even employed the silliest argument of all on head shots, that of taller players playing against smaller ones, and cited the challenge that 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara would face under enhanced head shot legislation.
Never mind that Chara plays all the time against tiny Brian Gionta and doesn't spend the entire game elbowing him in the chops. As long as there's been hockey, there have been taller players and shorter ones, and the taller player has always had to modify his approach.
So after listening to all of this, you would have been under the impression the commissioner was a staunch opponent of doing anything to address the issue of players deliberately cold-cocking opponents by driving their shoulder pads into the opponent's cranium whenever the opportunity arose.
We'll call it the Colby Armstrong approach to hockey. Hit to hurt/injure and then pretend to be all broken up about it afterwards.
No way would this change under his watch, Bettman seemed to make clear.
Well, wondered Duthie quite correctly, what about the Ontario Hockey League's widely praised head checking rule which has been endorsed by GMs, coaches and players alike? Why couldn't the NHL adopt such a rule successfully if it meant reducing concussions and head injuries?
And then Bettman flip-flopped.
Well, he said, don't get me wrong. We might put in a head checking rule. This might be a significant problem with which we must deal as soon as possible.
Which, for the one-thousandth time, put Bettman exactly where he wants to be on any major issue in the game.
Right in the middle, waiting to measure the political winds, preferring not to lead the way.