Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Call Me Crazy, But Jones' Suspension is Justifiable

It's time the NHL stepped up and did a little more to protect players.
Michael Dwyer/AP

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.


  1. If you are going to start talking like Don Cherry, you may as well start dressing like him too:


    On a completely different topic, I agree with you. This was a hockey hit that had a bad consequence. Often, the league suspends based on results not on the hit itself. And for some reason, I don't think the Philly marketing department will have a hard time dealing with the marketing of illegal hits to their fans.

  2. http://www.nhl.com/features/gallery/

    Slightly more readable...

  3. I can't read that many words. Seriously, I just blackout after number 250. I'm unemployed, so you know...

  4. Isn't suspending based on results just as arbitrary as suspending based on intent? The former is (somewhat) out of the perp's control, and the latter is truly unknowable. Maybe Jones had a dark moment and wanted to end Bergeron's life at that precise moment.

    The fact of the matter is, hitters and hittees will put themselves in harm's way to give their team an advantage. I'll go out on a limb and say that having your skill players unconscious does not help the NHL. And it seems that individual suspensions are not enough of a disincentive to stop hits of this type (injurious I mean, not necessarily vicious).

    For this reason, I would advocate that when a player is suspended for on-ice behavior, that roster spot cannot be filled by another player. This will force the teams to discourage this type of play as well. Why should the Flyers really care about Boulerice or or Downie be out of the lineup- they can call up another Phantom at any time. But playing with 5 D- that just sucks.

  5. Whe I played hitting from behind was not per se illegal.

    No player from my day would skate to the boards and stop 3 feet short facing the boards - it would have been suicide and we knew it.

    Now, players do stupid things that leave them exposed to hits like this because they don't expect them. This new rule set up isn't as failsafe as the old way.

  6. Bergeron had his back to Jones from the hashmarks in and Jones still bulldozed him. This should have been another 25 gamer at least.

  7. @casualhockey--wouldn't being unemployed give you more time to read those words than if you *were* employed?

  8. So, you're crazy!

    Yo, dude - hitting from behind is illegal. Intent to injure deserves a lot more than a two game suspension. When a guy can see his target's numbers, it's a hit from behind. When the guy is facing the boards and you choose to pile drive him into said boards, it is intent to injure. Clownshoe Campbell might just as well release a statement that says - "Feel free to maim or kill one another with illegal hits from behind. If you don't care, we don't care!" Maybe if Jones had broken Bergeron's neck, he would have gotten a whopping three game suspension - kind o' like Orprick got when he drove Erik Cole's head into the boards.

    The number of people who talk out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to a "marginal" player vs. someone with value to the team, constantly amazes me. I'm not equating what Jones did with the Boulerice or Downie transgressions, but hitting a guy in the numbers is unacceptable.

    These guys appear to need those stop signs they put on the back of youth hockey sweaters. Some of these players just don't seem to appreciate what it means to have respect for your peers. Jones would be the first one screaming if he found himself driven into the boards the way he drove Bergeron, mewling apology notwithstanding. If you didn't mean to hurt him, you shouldn't have hit him in the numbers, Randy!

    The league continues to make itself a laughingstock. I sure hope it doesn't take something more tragic than the crippling of the players who have already had their careers ended by hits from behind to make the league sit up and take notice. College hockey is on the right track in taking a hard line on hits from behind. They have to be taken out of the game.

    If you want to blame the victim for "turning his back", then we need to stop teaching players to protect the puck with their bodies and to try to pursue the puck to the boards and win the battle. I'm with Brian Burke on this one - you should be able to pin the guy to the boards when he's trying to protect it with his body so you can have a shot at winning the battle for the puck. If that means allowing the "bear hug" to occur then that's okay by me. I think it's easy to see if a player is being pinned to the boards to prevent him from playing the puck vs. preventing an injury and giving the two players an equal chance at the puck.

    Just my rant as someone who's been injured by a hit from behind!

  9. I would love to see the "bear hug" hit from behind legal again.

    I liked the old way where hitiing from behind was not per se illegal (thus players weren't lulled into a false sense of safety) but hits from behind that were injury attempts rather than play the man off ot the puck hits were penalized under other rules (roughing, boarding, charging, deliberate attempt to injure, etc.).

    The absolutely no hits from behind rule made the game MORE dangerous, not less. Good officials had all of the tools needed to deal with bad hits from behind before the current rule was adopted.

    Had I been playing my compteitive hockey under the current rule, I would have gotten my team 2 or 3 more power plays a game on top of the 2 or 3 I was usually able to draw under the old rule book.