Over the last two weeks the NHL Playoffs have descended into an exhibition of violence in all its forms.The games have been secondary to the ritualized violence of fighting, and the outlawed violence of cheap shots and head hunting.
Here’s what has grabbed headlines so far:
- The 38-penalty royal rumble that was yesterday’s disastrous Flyers-Penguins game.
- The first-period brawl between New York and Ottawa, which lead to a string of cheap shots that left two players suspended.
- The WWE-style head-bashing that Nashville’s Shea Weber delivered on Detroit’ Henrik Zetterberg, and the obligatory retribution that followed in the next game.
- Henrik Sedin going down in a woozy heap after a vicious hit against the Kings, and coming back into the game.
“Hockey” is taken a back seat to “hockey-violence.” It’s a joke, and the NHL needs to stop it.
People have always criticised NHL fighting for its barbarism. But hockey violence has had a much more serious effect this year — it’s devalued the games themselves, and become an end in and of itself. These games have become a never-ending succession of paybacks.
Even the sport’s best player, Sidney Crosby, forgot his talent in Game 3 against the Flyers, and became hell-bent on “settling scores” rather than, you know, scoring.
Look, violence is an inherent and essential part of the game. It’s engrained in the traditions of the sport, and is a huge part of the NHL brand at this point. You could even argue that allowing players to “handle their business” on the ice helps avoid further violence.
But when the economy of violence between teams becomes such a huge part of the game, it hurts the integrity of the sport. When players like Crosby are more concerned about standing up for themselves than about winning a vital road playoff game, things have gotten out of hand.
The NHL should crack down. Don’t allow the little jabs after every whistle. Suspend and eject players more aggressively than ever. And next season, curb violence from the beginning so that it isn’t as entrenched come playoff time.
Because right now, it’s an embarrassment.
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