Here we are about a month into the season, and we're already discussing and dissecting the umpteenth controversial and dangerous action taken by a Philadelphia Flyers player. Unbelievable. And that's ignoring all the wild lapses in judgment that went on last season -- I'm looking at you, Chris Simon.
First it was Steve Downie, and then Jessie Boulerice tried his turn Suspension Generator. The pair received a combined 45 games in suspensions, and probably caused an even bigger headache to the on the NHL'sFlyers' marketing department, not to mention the players that they cut down. Marketing now has their work cut out for them, adding to their task of overcoming their lack of rational thought that produced this gem during the summer.
The latest suspension of a Flyer was handed down today to defenseman Randy Jones for his hit on Boston's Patrice Bergeron Saturday night in Boston. The total penalty was two games. That's it. I imagine this number may lead many people into a frenzy questioning the methods and madness of NHL HQ, and let me come out and say it right now, the suspension is just.
Yeah, you heard me. Hold back a few seconds before you channel all kids of rage and disgust in my direction. I'll let you grill me, fry me and put me in a bun in a minute. Do whatever you wish, but first, hear me out.
Two games seems like an extremely weak sentence for a hit that sent a guy to the hospital and probably made many people wonder if he was even going to walk again. And you know what, it might be a tad short. Maybe six games or ten would have been more appealing to the ear, but it would not have been just.
The major difference between what Jones did as compared to Boulerice and Downie was his level of intent. In fact, I believe there was no intent to injure, unlike the two previous suspensions. Take a look at the first two incidents, and I'm sure you'll agree that there was a certain level of, how do you say it poetically, massive brain cramping with the intent to injure. When you look at the hit Jones put on Bergeron, not so much.
What Jones did wasn't some premeditated slasher movie imitation. Here, there is no similarities to any of the poorly thought out goonish cannibalism that we have seen from the likes of say, Todd Bertuzzi or Chris Simon. Jones meerly went to the end boards to tie up and knock the puck away from Bergeron in an attempt to regain control of the puck for his team and, you know, play defense. When Bergeron put his head down, Jones had to make the split-second decision of whether to pull up or to finish the check. Jones did what most hockey players in this tough, overly physical enviornment that we know as the modern NHL would do -- he finished his check. Had Bergeron kept his head up, he may have skated away with nary a bruise. I'm not blaming this on Bergeron. Not at all. All I'm saying is that Jones was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and made a hit that 99 times out of 100 the other player walks away. That is worlds different than skating up to someone who had just pissed you off and whacking them with your stick in premeditated retaliation.
In the end, what happens is we have yet another example of the NHL ignoring the problem instead of trying to correct it. In an era when why many lower levels of hockey have moved to a rules system that employs no-touch icing, and other sports leagues are working on improving the protection of a player's head (see the NFL) the NHL drops the ball. Whenever an offensive or defensive player turns their back to chase a dump in as Bergeron did, they are taking a serious risk to their own health. Even though it may be a 99 times out of 100 type of event, this situation occurs numerous times every game, and therefore we see this type of injury what seems like a couple times each year. The problem is, that due to very vulnerable body positioning, it can result in very serious injury. The ludicrous thing is that this is all accepted on the NHL level.
In youth hockey, the prime example of prevention of this type of injury are those stop signs that you see on the backs of youth hockey jerseys. It so happens that in the NHL, we are gullible enough to believe that players are old enough and conditioned enough to recognize the imaginary stop signs on the back of jerseys, such as the one Bergeron was wearing. For that assumption, we get what happened on Saturday night; a scene that no one wants to see starting with a player going limp on the ice and ending with a night in the hospital. Thankfully, Bergeron should be alright.
Giving a two game suspension to Jones isn't the sign of a league office that has gone soft, it's a sign that Jones isn't to blame. Bergeron was a victim of circumstance and a league which chooses to believe that hits to the head and other serious injuries like Bergerons are only part of the price for being a pro hockey player. Jones only had a fraction of a second to adjust to Bergeron and either was not able to adjust or did so in the wrong way. The play was one that occurs on a nightly basis in the NHL, and every so often ends horribly. Don't believe that? Look no further than Jason Blake who was carted off on a stretcher after a similar incident last season. And he's not alone, either.