Archive for February 19, 2017

Where are the NHL Suspension Standards?

1208 for publication February 17,2017

Ross Brewitt

Like everyone else who might be interested, I waited, to see if the National Hockey League would take an easy opportunity to make a case for getting tough. They didn’t.

I’m speaking of the incident last Sunday night where Red Wing Gustav Nyqvist high-sticked the Wild’s Jared Spurgeon in the face, in a careless action along the boards. It could have been disastrous, and the fact it wasn’t didn’t lessen the immediate fear it generated.

In the history of hockey there has always been an understanding that having your stick under control is the individual’s responsibility. According to the NHL it was so in the Brian Berard eye-injury case, as it was for Duncan Keith’s high-sticking foul last season, to name a couple of frightening cases. Regardless of good intentions or excuses, it’s the stick-wielder’s problem.

For as long as I’ve been around hockey, there has been plenty of tough talk, plenty of reclamation projects, so allow me to explain, where I saw this “opportunity.”

The League could have demonstrated caution by beginning 10 games, possibly dropping it to 9 for Nyquist, showing consideration for his unblemished clean sheet. But in order to adjudicate future incidents, and to show a tougher stand or deterrent, and it would set a higher baseline for future incidents that will follow. Instead, the NHL is left with a low example for a serious foul.

And, regardless that Spurgeon was able to resume playing that night, the fact he wasn’t injured shouldn’t factor into the initial evaluation.

Let me harken back to the “old days,” which remain surprisingly close to today’s NHL hand-to-hand combat. In those bad old days the stories you heard weren’t exaggerations, just as wild-and-wooly as described. In fact with the lack of the personal protection being up to today’s standards, and medical support services being lesser than they are now, they were more dangerous in the extreme for the victims.

Back in the mid-50’s Red Sullivan, the Rangers captain, was speared by Habs defenceman Dough Harvey, and rushed to a Montreal hospital with internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen. The stories of the day reported it was close to a fatality. In fact a priest was summoned to his bedside for the last rites.

Red Sullivan is someone I got to know when he scouted for the Rangers and I later interviewed him at his home in Peterborough considering his closeness with Edward Shack, when I was writing “Clear the Track,” the Schack biography.

A combative player, Sullivan related to me how he and Harvey had an on-going career feud. On this occasion Sullivan admitted guilt in slew-footing Harvey the game before and he fully expected retribution in their next game. He did. When Sullivan jostled the Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante that night, Harvey speared him.

No mention was made in the clippings of the penalty time issued, or if there was a suspension. Even today I could find nothing in the League’s or media accounts of this near fatality.

Anyway, it was this extreme stickwork that fell out of favour, cropping up only briefly and sporadically, depending on the individual practitioners who came and went, quickly, in the years that followed.

Yet another foul that seemed to disappear then re-appeared in the headlines of recent seasons, is that same slew-footing, and spearing. Most likely, it’s because of the escape performances of Boston’s Brad Marchand, who practices both fouls.

In Marchand’s most recent incident, he got away with a $10,000 fine rather than the slew-footing suspension most experts predicted. Based on his past history, worse was expected. He was allowed to continue playing in that game, appearing several times in the scoring summary, and avoided missing the All Star Game he had been selected to.

For me, it’s these trembling, fluttery League standards that come into question, this floating baseline that’s available, but little used. Instead, the minimum discipline is usually applied, seemingly based on “considerations”

A $10,000 fine to a player in today’s game isn’t a handicap.  But losing six to ten games is, and therein lies the key to curtailing repeat offenders.

Take away their ice time. It really hurts. In all the right places, for all the right reasons.

Coach Downplays the Downside of Hockey 

207 for publication February 19, 2017   670
Ross Brewitt
          The Winnipeg Jets are in tenth place in the West, and everything about them has an “almost” feel to them. Almost everything except they sit four points behind Los Angeles, five behind Calgary and St. Louis, and six back of Nashville who are in sixth place. Out of the playoffs
          Those six points are no small matter, nor are the list of teams they have to climb and leap-frog over in the games remaining to make a playoff birth. Do-able with an occasional good run but difficult in the extreme.
What’s required is a generous helping of luck, a lack of injuries, finding a stingy goal-keeper, and keeping Patrick Laine’s eyes on the learning curve. The Jets really haven’t accomplished much since their resurrection, considering they had little to work with when they arrived from Atlanta.
But since acquiring the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft and landing the aforementioned Laine, with a few add-ons and re-jigs they have shown the makings of a team in the top-eight. Whether it’s this year or not is the job coach Paul Maurice faces.
I first met Maurice at the John Ferguson Golf Classic, the annual tournament held in Windsor for a dozen years. It was there, in Windsor of the 80’s, that Maurice was a defenceman with the OHL Spitfires. In his fourth season he suffered an eye injury that ended his hockey career, but when Spitfires owner Peter Karmanos offered him a job as an assistant coach, he was happy to stayo on. This was the same owner that hired and fired him later in his NHL career during his initial go-round with the Hartford Whalers who became the Carolina Hurricanes.
When Karmanos fired him from Carolina, his replacement was Peter Laviolette, and Maurice moved to the AHL Toronto Marlies in 2005, then was bumped up to the Maple Leafs in 2006 for two desultory seasons.
Laviolette was with the Hurricanes long enough to pick up a Stanley Cup in 2006 but by 2008 Karmanos was canning Laviolette and rehiring Maurice. Coaching, being the nomadic, unpredictable journey it is, saw Maurice return to the Hurricanes once more for two seasons, before he was let go by Karmanos yet again.
His next stop was in the Russian KHL, for the 2012-13 season, a one-and-done deal. His timing was perfect as he was offered the job in Winnipeg, replacing Claude Noel on January 12, 2014, and at the end of that half-season, they liked him so much he signed a four-year extension with the Jets.
At those Windsor Golf tournaments I had a chance to talk with Maurice on a few random occasions, the kind of round-table exchanges that occur randomly, where you can observe and converse with people in the news, while in a favourable setting. One of those sit-downs included a special one, in my book with at least, with John Ferguson Sr. and Jr., Maurice, and Scotty Bowman.
One post-note in interveiw shorthand I recall making in my car on observing Maurice in that gathering at the Essex GC, was “esh-but-Bc… stud – no name – patc pays – sens of hoo – f i persp.” Translated into working English it reads “excellent sense of humour, but be careful, studious, not a name-dropper, patience pays off with him, good sense of who he is, even his firings are in perspective.”
This translation is only doable minutes after the conversation.
Therefore it was with a constant smile as I saw him on the Thursday morning interviewed on Sports TV, and watched him with a stern deadpan and tongue-in-cheek “apologize to the residents of Manitoba”. He also coyly confessed after what seemed criticism of Laine, in cutting short the rookie’s ice time by a few minutes, adding “I still love Patrick, (pause) I’m gonna play him again.”
The smile broke through at precisely the right moment, letting his audience know he was less than serious, and it took me back to those insights he conveyed in Windsor, so long ago.
With that kind of regard for the value of humour in teaching the game, the Jets could very well make-up the playoff gap.   
Ross Brewitt