On November 1st, the Edmonton Oilers’ Andy Sutton was issued a five-game suspension by the NHL for hitting Grabriel Landeskog in the head in an open-ice hit. I hope the players are starting to have the message sink in: head shots and vicious checks on players in vulnerable positions are no longer wanted in hockey. But I’m not sure the message is sinking in yet under those CCM helmets.
Right after the game in comments to local media, Sutton pleaded innocence and more, saying he’d “make that hit again”. The other day, victim Landeskog suggested he was the culprit: “I should have been more aware”. To this the so-called hockey purists would say, “No shit, princess, keep your head up next time.”
I want to know when physical play and hard checking meant putting a player into next week or into months of concussion-related pain and confusion. Back in the day, an open ice hit was most often a well-timed and very effective hip check. The main focus of checking was separating the puck carrier from the puck, not separating his head from his senses. Personally, I think this whole penchant for violence and mayhem is a sign of the times. Kids see this indiscriminate and glorified violence everywhere: tv, video games, movies, on the streets and in the schools, at times even in their own families. Violence has become part of the fabric of life today. Sad. In hockey, I believe the trend of wanting to hurt someone with vicious checks started with the New Jersey Devils’ Scott Stevens. He was so good at targeting vulnerable players, we put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I wish Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s discipline guru, all the best in his current crackdown on what amounts to intents to injure. I hope the NHL players start to get the message, much like the football players of the NFL are slowly starting to understand: it’s not enough to hear the message and nod like a bobble-head on the dashboard of some fan; players have got to change their way of thinking and their game.
This will be a long transition period if the comments of Landeskog and Sutton are any indication. Sutton washed his hands of the whole affair, stating in his news release after receiving the suspension: “For 14 years, I’ve always played the game with respect and integrity and I will continue to do so when I return.”
Mr. Shanahan, you’ll be busy this season.