TORONTO (May 6) — Hey, guess what? The National Hockey League was big news in the United States for 72 hours this week. Not for any reason, of course, that relates to Connor McDavid performing at a level unseen since Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Or, that an American citizen (Auston Matthews) is leading the NHL in goals. It was newsworthy for the only circumstance that creates hockey waves south of the border: a gong show.
In this instance, the league, itself, took an unwarranted wallop.
You may not agree with the manner in which the NHL rulebook is structured. Under that guideline, however, the heinous maneuver by Tom Wilson in New York on Monday night was unfitting of a suspension. The perpetrator caused all the fuss. Not the act. Had Mitch Marner, as an example, temporarily lost his mind and flipped Artemi Panarin to the ice at Madison Square Garden, nobody would have been talking about the incident five minutes later. The fact it was the NHL’s answer to bin Laden that went ape–sh** prompted some in New York to compare the event to Todd Bertuzzi pole–axing Steve Moore from behind in 2004 and breaking Moore’s neck. My God, in the 1970’s era of the Broad Street Bullies, what Wilson did on Monday would have been considered good sportsmanship. Where has hockey gone that people are equating it to a potential homicide? Wilson shook off a pesky opponent rather nastily, but not with deadly force. If we suspend players for such a misdeed, the game will become pillow–fighting on ice. In fact, the rabbit–punch by Wilson that sparked the incident was more trashy than the body slams that followed. But, neither was it worthy of a suspension. Not the way the NHL rules are written.
The New York Rangers were wayyyy out of line singling out George Parros in their venomous statement after the Wilson–Panarin episode… and full value for the quarter–million–dollar fine levied against them by commissioner Gary Bettman. All Parros did was follow the rule book. He viewed the incident and, quite correctly, deemed it was not deserving of a suspension. Even if hockey fans in the 30 NHL cities other than Washington would have cheered euphorically had Parros singled out the culprit rather than the act. Perhaps the title senior vice–president of player “safety” can be ridiculed, given what the liberal NHL rules provide for. Otherwise, Parros executed his role perfectly well — turning a blind eye to the participants and grading the deed on its merit (or lack thereof).
LIKE IT OR NOT, CHIEF DISCIPLINARIAN GEORGE PARROS (RIGHT) WAS SIMPLY FOLLOWING THE NHL GUIDELINES WHEN DETERMINING HOW TOM WILSON SHOULD BE PUNISHED FOR HIS ROUGHHOUSING OF ARTEMI PANARIN (LEFT) IN NEW YORK ON MONDAY NIGHT. PARROS MUST GRADE WHETHER OR NOT AN INCIDENT IS WORTHY OF SUSPENSION, IRRESPECTIVE OF THE PLAYERS INVOLVED. AS SUCH, HE DID HIS JOB PERFECTLY WELL. GETTY IMAGES/NEW YORK POST
Sorry to say, but it was not a particularly violent transgression.
Yet, there were Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon with hockey among the top three subjects on Tuesday’s edition of Pardon The Interruption; Wilbon making Wilson sound like Charles Manson — and Parros, a complicit dolt — in his diatribe over the incident. As I recall, the NHL has twice been featured on P.T.I. this season: after referee Tim Peel snookered himself on tape with a compromising remark… and Monday night’s Rangers–Capitals bruhaha. If not for an occasional dishonor, hockey wouldn’t exist on the late–afternoon sports shows in the U.S.
Is it the NHL’s fault that the American media equates it to wrestling and roller derby? Undoubtedly. For its stubborn refusal to abolish fighting and stand in line with the other three major professional sports in North America: football, baseball and basketball. No one is quite certain why Neanderthal factions within the league still believe fisticuffs are essential. Most other elements of the game have been impeccably modernized by the Bettman administration. The fighting non–rule harkens to the genesis of the sport. Haven’t we grown up a little since the early 1900’s? Which shouldn’t excuse the national media in the U.S. for its fundamental ignorance of hockey. Neither has anything in that regard changed for the better part of a century. But, the NHL could help itself. If so inclined.
HE CAN’T BE SERIOUS: If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and even amid this breakthrough season in the all–Canadian North Division, you had to shiver when coach Sheldon Keefe — early on Thursday — refused to name the club’s goalie for the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Clearly leaving the door open for Frederik Andersen to re–claim his No. 1 role in the opening match (likely) against Montreal. This would be a travesty on so many levels. Not the least of which was Andersen’s inability to guide the Leafs beyond the first round of competition in four consecutive years. Show me another team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspiration that would provide such an athlete a fifth opportunity. Any dispassionate observer knows that Andersen has killed the Leafs by offsetting moments of brilliance with debilitating brain cramps, usually at the most–inopportune juncture of a playoff (or qualifying) match. Add to that his three–month injury absence along with Jack Campbell’s resounding 16–2–2 record in 20 starts this season and Andersen shouldn’t be in the conversation to begin the Cup tournament between the pipes. What more needs Campbell to accomplish before his coach publicly supports him? It was a terrible decision by Keefe to dither when asked if he “favors a goalie” for the post season. He should know better.
GIVE THAT MAN A POM–POM: At the risk of being overly critical toward a broadcaster executing a tough assignment, it was nonetheless painful to hear Sportsnet analyst Pat Tabler’s pandering of the Toronto Blue Jays during their three–game visit to Oakland. As with play caller Dan Shulman (here in Toronto), Tabler, in Florida, was working the games contested three time zones away at the Oakland Coliseum. Off TV monitors. And, making it sound as if he were seated beside Shulman in the Coliseum telecast booth. For that, he deserves uncompromising merit.
Why, on the other hand, he feels it necessary to be such an avid conduit of the Blue Jays is an abiding mystery.
Yes, he’s part of the “brand” that Rogers imposes on TV viewers with its conflicting interests in Sportsnet; Sportsnet–590 radio; the Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs. It’s an environment that will never spawn a nonpartisan, evenhanded word about the baseball club, in particular. But, that shouldn’t necessitate such Tabler phrases as “I’ll take it” (when the Blue Jays get a break) or “this is fun to watch” when the players string together a few hits. Neither should Tabler have consigned the early season batting woes as an illusion, simply because the Blue Jays enjoyed a couple of offensive eruptions against the A’s. Some may suggest Tabler is trumpeting the Rogers hype machine now that his appearances have fallen behind that of the Shulman–Buck Martinez tandem. But, Tabler, an otherwise knowledgeable baseball observer, similarly fawned over the club in the years he and Martinez called the overwhelming majority of games; when Shulman was still occupied with ESPN and ABC assignments in the U.S.
It is very difficult to fool a discerning sports viewer. Why even try?