Blog Entry

Spin doctors

Posted on: March 19, 2010 5:40 pm
Edited on: March 20, 2010 9:31 am

It felt like the Sunday morning talk show circuit with high-ranking officials making the rounds to defend and spin.

In this case it was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on his weekly satellite radio show explaining why James Wisniewski was given an eight-game suspension for a dangerous hit while Matt Cooke got nothing for his. And a little later it was director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, the man who made both decisions, offering his take while being interviewed by Mike Milbury on the NESN Bruins pre-game show.

Both had been hearing a lot about the bad optics that have dominated the NHL landscape lately because of several recent on-incidents. But most of the media conversation and on call-in shows and message boards has been about Cooke going unpunished after his blind-side headshot forced Boston’s Marc Savard to be carried off on a stretcher two weeks ago. Still Bettman and Campbell kept insisting that since Cooke’s shoulder hit was technically legal and drew no penalty, precluding supplementary discipline from being used.

That could change since general managers at their meetings last week to unanimously recommend those types of hits be penalized. Already there is a movement on to fast-track the supplemental discipline part of the recommendation. But a new rule can't be implemented until next season, and in the meantime, injury-causing hits and how to deal with them continues to be the hot-button issue.

It came to a head this week when Cooke came to Boston for the first time since the Savard injury. A local newspaper even put the Pittsburgh Penguins player in a wanted poster on its front page, which helped explain why Campbell and the NHL’s officiating director Terry Gregson decided to drop in from their Toronto offices. You know, just to remind everyone not to let things get out of hand.

“You find the opportunity to avenge what you think you might have to,” Campbell said. “And if it is within the rules, you do it. Our game allows things and if that’s there, that’s there. Players do what they have to do. I think Cooke understands that as well.”

Apparently, because Cooke accepted a challenge from Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton on his first shift. Cooke took a few punches, went down first and because he "did the right thing" according to Thornton, that was the end of that. The matter was settled with a fight the way hockey people say it should, and then the teams got down to the serious business of playing for two important points. At least the Penguins did, shutting down the ineffectual Bruins 3-0, and leaving whatever revenge there being from the loss of a star player even less sweet.

Campbell said he regretted that.

“Trust me, we attempted to find a reason (to suspend Cooke) Mike,” he told Milbury. “I didn’t like the hit at all.”

Neither did Bettman, but he and Campbell kept insisting that those types of hits had never been punished before and the standard had to be consistent. Maybe, but don't commissioners have some discretionary latitude to do what’s good for the game? And the Cooke incident was nothing if not detrimental because it reinforced the impression of the NHL for thuggishness.

You have to figure there's a better way to get on news loops than having players victimized by cheap shots.

Whatever momentum the league had coming out of a great Olympic tournament – and there was a fair amount -- it has been lost in the last few weeks because of these repeated incidents. Instead of the focus being on the great playoff races now going on, the focus has been on images of woozy players being helped off the ice.

Obviously the commissioner has the legal basis to defend how the league handled Cooke And clearly the NHL is dealing more forcefully with bad hits now, this week sitting repeat offenders superstar Alex Ovechkin of the  Washington Capitals for two games and Anaheim’s Wisniewski for eight.

But Cooke is a repeat offender as well and that’s why majority of calls Bettman handled on his show were about Cooke. The commissioner repeatedly attempted to explain the decision process, yet callers couldn’t seem to get their heads around the logic.

The problem for the league right now is that it looks like it can’t get its act together when it comes to dealing with violent behavior. And no amount of spin will change that that visceral impression.



Category: NHL

Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: March 22, 2010 12:47 pm

Spin doctors

Blindside hits are not illegal dude so your argument is pointless.  Richards actually left his feet and lifted his elbow on his hit and aimed for the head while cooke only hit with his shoulder while staying low on his feet.  The richards hit was actuallymuch worse only the result (since savard has a history of concussions) was more severe.  Move on people the league has.

Since: Sep 8, 2006
Posted on: March 21, 2010 2:31 pm

Spin doctors

You are 100% correct. Nobody likes seeing Savard hurt but the guy was not hit from behind, he just had his head turned and got clocked. The number one rule in hockey after keep your stick on the ice is keep your head up and Savard did not. He was in play, he got hit from the blindside and it was a clean hit. It's just that if it were Ovechkin instead of Cooke that hit him, there'd be people lining up to say what a great hit it was and everyone should play that way.

Since: Jun 8, 2009
Posted on: March 21, 2010 12:13 pm

Spin doctors

I'm all for removal of the instigator penalty - and not so there will be more fighting, not so guys like Cooke get pounded after hits (clean or otherwise), but so guys like Cooke aren't employable. I'm sure that Matt Cooke would be an absolute superstar in my beer league, but in the NHL he is nothing but a thug with little to no respect for his fellow player. If he spent 5minutes in the box after every questionable hit (due to the inevitable fight that he'd find himself in) his effectiveness as a head-hunter would be greatly diminished. And if a guy like Matt Cooke can't head-hunt, what does he bring to a team? He isn't an enforcer, tough-guy, or goal scorer...penalty killing specialist? One things for certain, he wouldn't be making 1.2million to troll the ice looking for vulnerable players to KO.

Since: Sep 1, 2006
Posted on: March 21, 2010 10:56 am

Spin doctors

Incidentally, there is a law against willfully spreading just happened in Indianapolis.  A woman that is HIV+ donated plasma for cash, checking the box that says "I affirm, under penalty of law, that I am free from the following bloodborne diseases..."  There is a warrant for her arrest.  Nevertheless, your point is well made.
There is just way too much subjectivity regarding how hits are viewed.  Cooke's is terrible because he has a history, and Boston's best player was KO'd, Ovie's was questionable because Campbell lost an edge (but punishment was stiif because he broke a collarbone), and on and on.
A panel of three ex-players to review hits might be an idea, how about get rid of instigator penalties so the justice can be meted out on the ice after an incident?  It just seem like everyone's opinions on this are so colored by their team allegiances, and the NHL has such a stake in keeping their fan base intact as the survival of the sport depends on it.
I fully expect to catch heat from the group who bookmark, but what did the Olympic tournament and playoff hockey have in common?  We don't talk about any of the hitting, fighting, suspensions or non-suspensions.  The talk centers on great goaltending, smooth skating, slick passing, AND hits.  Clean hits.  Hits that separate man from puck.  A league that embraced that mentality all season wouldn't have a job for players(?) like Cooke.

Since: Feb 9, 2007
Posted on: March 20, 2010 11:47 pm

Spin doctors

Quicksand Jesus makes another good point.  Instigator penalty is encouraging this crap.  Get it out of here.  Worst rule in SPORTS, not just hockey.  These pussy euopeans like Grabo, and the Koistisyn bro's and Ovie come around and dishing out these dirty little hits without being held accountable.

Since: Mar 20, 2010
Posted on: March 20, 2010 11:04 pm

Spin doctors

See the problem with  this  is not really the hits  , in the 70's and 80's  if cooke hit a player like that on another team , he wouldve been fighting one after another and another player on the other team wouldve went after crosby or that russian fag malkin
think anyone wouldve hit Gretzky without semenko or messier kicking their asses

and all the fighting rules have changed the game for the worse and only encourages checks like  these and cowardly stick work  and not to mention the nhl lost a lot of  their fans in the united states

Since: Nov 19, 2007
Posted on: March 20, 2010 3:55 pm

Spin doctors

Ive seen that Keith hit and it really wasnt that much different than the Cooke hit on Savard.  The puck was right there next to Cook, he had his head down and got his clocked cleaned.    As a hockey player, I was taught if you saw a guy with his head down to rock him, but now the trend is to get away from that (which is fine but these guys were taught one thing, now they have to learn to be apprehensive before checking someone).  If they want to clean the game of head shots, youve got to start preaching this in bantam when the kids first learn to check.

Since: Feb 9, 2007
Posted on: March 20, 2010 2:30 pm

Spin doctors

IronCity has it completely right.  I'm going to ignore his last comment about Keith since I never saw the hit.  But he's right, you can't retrodate a rule.  What Cooke did while he deserved suspension, didn't get one for the right reasons.  His hit was technically not breaking any rules.  I'm not a Penguins or Cooke fan by any means (I detest Cooke and he's one of only 3 players I laugh at when they get hurt because of my disgust of them).  Ovie's was boarding, Wizniewski's was an elbow, charging and completely away from the play.

Since: Nov 16, 2006
Posted on: March 20, 2010 12:43 pm

Spin it all you want, it won't help.

 While I applaud the implementation of the new head-hit rule, the NHL has recently proven that they have no clue how to enforce the rules they already have. With last weekend's frivolities, to a person everyone I know has been complaining about the NHL Lords of Discipline and their double or triple standards. If they intend to put in the new rule, they have to school the refs on _exactly_ what it is, and also teach them what the current rules are. There's way too much confusion now, and the fans are angry with it. Angry fans is not what Bettman wants to grow the popularity of the sport.

Since: Nov 5, 2007
Posted on: March 20, 2010 11:24 am

Spin doctors

Cooke hit his guy from behind while Richards hit his guy from the front.

Matt Cooke has always been trash, I know you like him because he is a Penguin, but he's always been dirty no matter where he has played.

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