Archive for October 29, 2016

NHL: Don’t Let the Rough Side Slide

1189 for publication October 28, 2016

Ross Brewitt

Before we get deep into the World Series, I have a problem to settle with the NHL.

During September’s NHL exhibition season, Andrew Shaw was tagged with a suspension of three pre-season games for one of those definitely illegal  head-first boarding hits on Caps defence prospect, Connor Hobbs.

As usual in these matters, Shaw could explain that he was the victim of slew-footing earlier in the game and decided to even the score. This was the critical Canadiens opener of the “tryout season” and Shaw deemed it critically necessary to set the tone for the rest of his season, plus other innocent culprit’s too.

To show who was in charge in the fight that ensued, Shaw held off his opponent with one hand, and with the free arm egged-on the homer-crowd to yowl louder in appreciation of his dominance. When he was satisfied, he landed two punches that ended the fight.

He’s a tough guy, and no-one on ice will dispute that fact. But his disregard and comprehension of the rules and the subsequent penalties and suspensions, and ending up in the press box, require clarification. He, and others like him, must recognize they’ve got a problem, not the reverse. Until Mr. Shaw discovers he can be a tough guy and stay within the rules of the day, he must be subject to the results.

Confusing? Sure, but necessary in the world of players whose job it is to mete out “payback.” In a thirty team league, it’s easy to see how this can become a memory nightmare, unless you’re a player adhering to the “take a number and deal with it now” rule. We’ve seen them, they’re called “goons.” That role can be taxing.

So, after serving his suspension and back in the lineup on the Habs opening night, a road game in Buffalo October 13th, he received a five-minute major, plus a match penalty for slew-footing the Sabres Johan Larsson in the waning seconds of the game. This case now is somewhat short of “smart.”

Still, regardless of who tripped who, or what was done when, the culprit in this typical dumb-bum case is the NHL. Why? When you have rules you enforce them. Geez, it’s the reason you have rules in the first place.

If the governing body wants to lean on a malcontent who defies the rules and treats them with continuing disdain of the governing body, in this case our NHL, then they are obliged to take it seriously and put the hammer down.

As I’ve said many times before and I will write again, the NHL’s up-side in this scenario is the start of the season, the perfect time to set the tone and mete out tough justice. If that decision is reached and applied, it should be all the wake-up call necessary.

Well, the NHL may be “obliged” to grudgingly dole out penalties and suspensions, but following up has never been their trademark, and they’ve stuck to their usual distance in this case. Stephane Quintal, heading up the NHL’s the Department of Player Safety, thought “a chat” about the situation, and the problem’s it presents, would be rough enough for Shaw. Really?

No fine, no suspension, no penance required.

After the “educational” meeting Shaw emerged sounding anything but contrite, instead coming across cocky and cavalier. “… I tripped the guy, but it wasn’t vicious,” he said. He sounded like many other hard-done by players explaining away their treatment or suspension.

The bare-faced truth is slew-footing is dangerous, no matter how gently it’s applied. It’s sort’a like a “soft head-hit” thrown at a player such as Sydney Crosby. It doesn’t take much to end a career, and it’s disappointing to hear a selfish position taken by a player who considers himself a “stand-up guy.”

Well, it’s still early, the perfect time to set the standard for the rest of the NHL season to enforce their rules, and put players on notice, before the playoffs loom and the crying towels come out.

The NHL “hands off” theory has been tried before, often in fact, by the Bettman regime.

And, it’s downright disappointing to see them back down from their responsibilities all over again.

Matthews, Plus Gary and the Neon Knights

1187 for publication October 14, 2016

Ross Brewitt

I’ll take this opportunity to reply to recent feedback from four readers last week, all ID’ing themselves as Leaf fans, who wondered why I hadn’t made mention of 19-year-old Auston Mathews’ four-goal performance, in the Leaf’s October 12 opener in Ottawa, his first NHL game.

One cited Matthews’ “pre-eminence,” and the fact that he had “no equal,” which was another thing I had obviously missed.

I reminded them my column runs once a week, is slotted into the same amount of space each Friday, and sometimes one subject tops another. In addition I cautioned them that Matthews was a rookie and despite his advantages in size, dexterity, speed, and burgeoning skill, he could be expected to have great nights, against nights when he’d like a do-over.

In reverse order, I pointed out I hadn’t offered any undo spotlight or pressure on McDavid, Stamkos, Kane, Crosby, or Ovechkin. In my experience, it was better to tone down the rhetoric, either way, and let the seasonal numbers give us a better sense of where players’ rank. Always keeping in mind this was a learning season, and for rookies there’s so much to learn, injuries to endure, and all those well-schooled goaltenders to face.

In addition, last week it was baseball’s All-In tournament, the Jays were engaged in the fight of their lives in the AL Championship, whereas the Leafs, in this case Auston Mathews, were in game-one of a budding 82-game schedule.

One thing is abundantly clear. This young man isn’t one of those overly celebratory guys who will have considerable difficulty chalking up 10 goals in a season, and for the record I approved of his first NHL goal celebration. Exuberant, but close to the vest, sharing a hug with linemates, considerably less demonstrative than you’d expect from P.K. Subban or Patrick Kane.

With his Mom in the audience shedding tears, the second, third, and fourth goals arrived, and the response from Matthews gradually lessened. Though he was pummeled by his teammates, he remained completely under control, almost showing discomfort in the event.

After the accolades had played out, I noted it would be a big night for anyone, even a grizzled veteran. Yet this guy did everything quietly right, and kept things down to a mild roar. If there was any doubt about instinctive maturity, or immediately being stamped as the mildest hockey playing arrival in Toronto since Mats Sundin, it was quickly shelved. Rightfully so. The Leaf’s lost in the 3-on-3 OT.

Get used to it, young man, there’s a long and winding road leading to a coveted eighth slot in the standings. But for the long-suffering blue-&-white fans, it’s already made the rocky road more tolerable.

Speaking of rocky-yellow-brick roads at this time of year, where is Gary Bettman these days?

Is the absence of the NHL Commissioner a forerunner to the next CBA dog-fight. Over what? Everyone’s already rich. Third and fourth-line five-goal scorers can now command $2-mill-per-season.

Still, you have to admit things are running tickety-boo in his absence. Perhaps it’s too early to tell if scoring is up or down, but no inflating the annual “bigger nets” test balloon. A bit early for that kind of attention grabber.

Other items on the agenda were settled without rancor or acrimony, notably the Experiment,” and with that out of the road, other high priority items are falling into place.

Example? Wayne Gretzky is re-settled in Edmonton again. In mind, if not in person. Plus, the Las Vegas Neon Knights have dispatched legions of scouts across the NHL landscape in preparation of their initial Entry Draft, June 2017.

Lastly, under the heading of “New Business,” the fan-write in vote for January’s All Star Game will exclude any player playing in the AHL at the time of voting. Also, being 6’ 8”, or weighing over 250 pounds, crosses airline restrictions. Nor will John Scott be invited as a former MVP.

As for the Jays. See ya! April, 2017.