Good Penalties, Bad Penalties

1218 for publication April 21, 2017   842

Ross Brewitt

In the NHL, penalties are a fact of life. No coach will admit to a “good” penalty unless it’s to the other team, but there are the one’s a coach can live with, as long as the boys kill it off.

Still, some are better than others, as long as none are in the dumb. stupid, or selfish category. Those are the kinds that make a coach begin to tighten his tie tighter, and tighter, and… you get my drift, OK?

I once had a player tell me his coach took him aside after a game, and thanked him for taking “a great penalty.” It was a hard hit that put the opponent’s top-scoring left-winger out of a playoff game. It was also two minute penalty for “charging,” and while the injured winger got up immediately and skated on his own to the bench, they never saw him over the next two games.

In Gary Bettman’s NHL, the Department of Player Safety headed up by Stephane Quintal, takes a business-like attitude to reporting of dicey penalties, fines and suspensions. Actually their carefully worded reviews are so dry, matter-of-fact and without rancor, they usually sound like a write up on a snitty argument at a cricket match.

The one thing they are guilty of in fining or sentencing, is to fail on the side of leniency, what I refer to as the “parole first approach.”

Said approach means the penalty is subject to the time of year, as in less time off in the playoffs, the resulting severity of the offense to the offender based on if the victim can still walk onto the bus after the game without assistance. Public opinion has nothing to do with anything.

But “spearing” is an even worse offense than kicking with a skate. Mainly because “kicking,” up to now has been a very rare, whereas spearing has been gaining in acceptance and usage among NHL players. Seems the more it happens the more acceptance it appears to gain.

Well, don’t expect the League to put out the fire. Because the NHL already has taken it as pedestrian, no-big-deal, unimportant. No alarm bells have rung. So I’ve taken it on as a project, much like “diving,” that turns up in minor and youth hockey regularly. My feelings on these two fouls is clear, and final. They have no place in my version of hockey, especially in the NHL.

Let me paint a hypothetical. A two-minute tripping call is made late in the third period on a missed case of diving, during a 2-2 Stanley Cup final game. The diver’s team scores the winning goal during that penalty advantage, winning the Stanley Cup. The uproar begins, lasts for days, weeks, and continues to be a source of irritation each year thereafter.

The divers team got the penalty call, the losers team were scored upon in the ensuing man disadvantage.

How do the losers feel about being cheated out of the biggest event on the NHL calendar? What about the diver, wearing the residual reputation of a cheater for the rest of his career? No longer is putting one over on the officials a “fun” thing.

How about teammates on the winning team, how do they handle the knowledge the game was won on a dive? What about the losers, perhaps cheated out of the only time they will ever make it to the final series in their careers? What about the recurring feelings of the roped-in officials?

It’s no longer a lark.

I feel the same way about spearing. It’s a gutless, cowardly act, nothing to be proud of, with no saving grace or place in the best league in the world, considering the damage it could cause, and the lingering scent of garbage for a league supposedly well above defrauding its fanbase.

Pick up a hockey stick, much like soldier with a bayoneted rifle, then lunge forward at someone you don’t like, the blade driven with force into your opponents abdomen, or worse. Do you get a sense of satisfaction over committing an Assault With a Deadly Weapon?

Last Tuesday Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, speared Chris Tierney of the Sharks, in the area between his legs. I’m going to assume you know what I’m talking about. He was assessed a five minute major penalty, and was quickly fined the max allowed for the AWDW. $2,500.

The fine doesn’t fit the sticking.

Strange isn’ it. If you pulled that stunt on the street you’d be arrested. And, for that reason I think the Draisaitl incident was a carry-over, having to do with the lenience for “spearing” given in one of Brad Marchand’s “gaffs” for the same offense.

How else do you explain a player like Draisaitl, with but 20 penalty minutes this past season, suddenly going over the top with the dirtiest foul in the book?

When is the NHL going to get serious about this dirty foul in their supposed squeaky clean entertainment? Nothing good can come from not wiping it off the schedule.

 

 

Leafs & Jays: Close Isn’t Good Enough

1217 for publication Saturday April15, 2017 (Easter)

Ross Brewitt

Don’t tell me you weren’t impressed.

Yes, you with the all-knowing smirk on your facial welcome mat, the lopsided grin that screams “see I told you so!”

I’m speaking to the closet Leaf fans who are gradually cluttering up the social media lines of escape from the real world, with claims of knowing “the Leafs won’t do squat against the Great Eight and his crew.”

Speaking of Ovechkin he didn’t do very much either if you’re keeping track of goals, but he was his rambunctious self when he was out there. At 6’, 238-pounds, that’s a lot of rambunctious to handle.

For those who haven’t decided who they are backing, the Leafs are playing Washington who led all teams in points. 118 of them. The Leafs put up 95.

The Caps have been rapping on the door for two decades, it seems, having reached the final only once in the spring of ’98, when Detroit won. The Leafs haven’t won, forever, or so it seems. The fact they were in 30th place last season, is how they acquired Auston Matthews in the draft. His purchased sweaters have just passed DQ Blizzard sales in Toronto.

Anyway, the fact they lost the opener 3-2 in overtime shouldn’t take away from the fact they scored the first two goals in the series. It forced the powerhouse Caps to go to extreme lengths for the win, with a seeing-eye wrister that had to be puck-up-on-end to squeeze between Frederik Anderson and the goalpost. Like dropping a dime in a piggy-bank slot on the first try.

It was, to say the least, a cruel result for the Leafs because if Tom Smith, the Caps scorer, notches a second goal in this series, he’ll be in the hunt for the Conn Smythe Trophy, as the playoff MVP.

The twist in this story folks is, if the Leafs somehow win this opening round, it would be just as shocking as the Leafs memorable loss to Boston in the 2013 opening series when the Bruins rallied and won game seven.

Now Leaf coach Mike Babcock has to convince his troops to win game two in Washington, then return to Toronto for games three and four in the friendly confines of the ACC. The Toronto nay-sayers contend that a win on Friday would spell a sweep of the Leafs. No kidding. A fan on morning TV wearing a blue-and-white body-suit and hockey pants, right down to blue and white shoelaces predicted as much.

Meanwhile, lost in the Stanley Cup fever that’s more like a cough and a facial rash for are the Jays, Toronto’s other team,. They hit a new low, losing to the Orioles on Wednesday, with three more games to go over the weekend. Their record as of Thursday morning, stands at 1-8. It’s  a hole beginning to look like the view from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Looking back over copious notes from last years “Three-Out Circus,” it’s obvious the Jays, under the direction of John Gibbons, haven’t addressed several of the same short-comings they experienced last year.

You could say not having the moving parts to correct past errors is the realm of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. From my notes I was able to determine that with one exception, the Blue Jays are basically the same team, the same personnel, same coaching staff, and same front line starters and closers, and the same game approach. Allow me to cite a classic example.

Wednesday night, eighth inning, leadoff hitter Kevin Pillar singles taking first-base with no-outs. Justin Smoak bats for Darwin Barney, proceeds to strike out on four pitches. Devon Travis grounds into double-play. Inning over.

In the ninth, with Brewer’s closer Felice in for the power of the Jays lineup, Bautista pops up to center, Donaldson walks, Saltalamacchia pinch runs, and Morales hits into double play. Game over, Brewers win, 2-0.

You’ve seen this flaccid approach before, right?

The Jays don’t pursue scoring runs. They wait.