A Spiral into Utter Silliness
The tweet came in just before midnight from an intriguing source, future Hall of Famer Mike Modano.
"Really selling the game," tweeted Modano under the Twitter handle @9modano. "No wonder our TV deals suck ass."
Joining a growing list of players and former players - Jonathan Toews, David Perron, Henrik Zetterberg - disgusted or frustrated with what has transpired over the first week of NHL playoff competition, Modano's tweet appeared to be in reaction to yet another ugly incident, this time Raffi Torres - oh yes, Torres again - and his vicious hit on Chicago star winger Marian Hossa that sent Hossa to hospital.
On a night when we should have been discussing Nashville's second straight win in Detroit, Florida's comeback against the Devils or 39-year-old Ray Whitney's brillance in a 3-2 overtime win for Phoenix over the Blackhawks, once again a controversial hit and injury took centre stage.
Modano's point, of course, and he should know, is that the NHL has constantly found itself with tiny TV ratings and revenue in the U.S. below sports like bowling because it has consistently failed to produce a package in which skill is featured ahead of goons and blood. (Of course, you can now expect the CBC's first intermission clown to take umbrage and first insult Modano's nationality, then call him a turncoat and a "puke," blame him for the bloodshed at Vimy Ridge then throw out a series of inaccurate and misleading "stats" that he will claim proves the 1999-00 Mississauga Ice Dogs were the greatest junior team ever to play.)
UPDATE: Torres suspended indefinitely
These days, meanwhile, it would certainly appear the best players in the game are being hunted and targetted, with little meaningful response from the NHL. Embattled Department of Player Safety boss Brendan Shanahan, who increasingly seems completely overmatched by the task he's been given, will face a challenge with the Torres-Hossa hit as Torres didn't even receive a minor penalty on the play.
That underlined another problem for Shanahan and the NHL. The officiating hasn't just been bad in recent days. Its been negligent and sometimes weirdly absent.
There was Ryan Clowe playing the puck from the bench in the final days of the season without any official knowing. There was an obvious offside goal for Philly to start a comeback in Game 1 against Pittsburgh. Last night, Nashville's David Legwand closed his hand on the puck in the crease and no official saw it, and then came the hit on Hossa, a blatantly illegal play that went uncalled as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sat in the stands at the United Centre.
"I can't believe four guys missed it," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville.
Torres, of course, is a serial offender and well-established backstabber, frequently punished but sometimes allowed to get away with dangerous and reckless play. In this instance, his hit on Hossa in front of the benches was late - the puck was long gone - and saw the Phoenix forward launch himself into Hossa's head, making it both a charge and a classic Rule 48 head shot.
"Just trying to finish my hit out there," said Torres, quoting from Page 1 of the NHL Players Excuse Guide.
Still, don't underestimate the NHL's ability to let Torres escape justice. He did so last spring when he delivered a brutal head shot to Brent Seabrook and was exonerated because the hit occurred in a "hitting zone" that no one had previously heard of.
In this case, a reasonable person might sugges Torres' suspension should begin with the remainder of the post-season and grow from there. Time and time again, this is a player who has demonstrated no regard for the health and well-being of his fellow NHLers, not to mention the rules of the game.
He is the new Matt Cooke, now that Matt Cooke is the new Matt Cooke, if you get my drift.
But who really has any idea whether Shanahan will take any action at all? Moreover, since the NHL owns the Coyotes and would love a springtime playoff run to improve the franchise's saleability, the league is, you could argue, in a rather massive conflict of interest here.
"I don't know what to expect anymore," said Toews afterwards. "I don't think anyone does."
That's because we appear to have moved into Phase 3 of the Shanahan Darts-At-A-Board Justice program.
Phase 1 was to flex his muscles and hand down suspensions of 10 or more games before being shut down by outraged general managers.
Phase 2 was to let players get away with murder - including two head shots from Torres for which he received a $2,500 fine for one and a two-game suspension for the other - while claiming education and discussion was a better strategy than suspensions.
Phase 3, meanwhile, appears to be to issue a blizzard of meaningless and illogical mini-suspensions, giving slightly larger ones to grunts and grinders while giving one game or less to star players. On Tuesday alone, Shanahan suspended four players, but none for more than four games, with the reasoning for each detached from a general, understandable guiding philosophy.
At this point, he's just guessing, trying simultaneously to please his boss and avoid getting censured by the GMs again while still trying to affect the manly pose of a former player with insight into the modern game.
So with respect to Torres, here are the possible outcomes:
--Torres could get 25 games, with Shanahan noting he once expressed an interest in playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and all Penguins deserve to be suspended because the Flyers are angels and would never do anything wrong.
--He might get a $2,500 fine, with Shanahan showing footage in his video of Hossa being able to walk out of hospital and a simulated presentation of the Slovak dancing at a late night Chicago blues bar.
--Torres could get a one-game suspension because Halifax came back to beat Quebec in the QMJHL playoffs. In other words, for no logical reason at all.
--The Coyote cranium-crusher might get four games because he reminds Shanahan of a left-handed Arron Asham.
--Or Torres might get no games and no fine because he outscored Sidney Crosby between Jan. 5, 2011 and Nov. 20, 2011, and then again between Dec. 6, 2011 and March 14, 2012, demonstrating emphatically that he is an elite skill player and not a rat, and therefore doesn't deserve any discipline at all.
Look, you've just gotta laugh at what's going on, because otherwise you'd be thoroughly disgusted at a league that is so dazed and confused another lockout might well be the best medicine for what ails it.