Friday, 17 February 2012

Brad Marchand paints the league in a corner

The NHL head office reminds me of the great SCTV skit where the station was hosting The People's Golden Global Golden Choice Awards and had rigged the results so that it was winning in all categories. Of course, the other networks like NBC and CBS started to smell a rat and unleashed a Price Waterhouse goon, played by a bespectacled Rick Moranis, to poke his nose into the voting methodology and how the ballots were tallied, and he's seen berating the organizers: "Who's in charge of security? Where are the accounting representatives?..." To throw the investigator off the scent, SCTV president Guy Caballero and station manager Edith Prickley meet in a dark room and frantically switch the card in the envelope declaring the winning show in the 'Best Dramatic Series' category from 'Vikings and Beekeepers', the relentlessly promoted SCTV series, to 'Hill Street Blues'. The payoff was seeing a freakishly tall Betty Thomas lead the cast in a charge to the stage to accept the award, and in the ensuing mayhem award presenter Hervé Villechaise is trampled to death.

Why am I reminded of this? In deciding to not suspend Brad Marchand for two instances of lowbridging Canadiens players on Wednesday, the league has shown that their earlier decision to suspend him for five games for his similar act against Sami Salo was not a condemnation of the act as much as an admission that they needed to bleed off a little pressure before resuming crooked business as usual.

In the Sami Salo case, the background included the fact that Canuck Aaron Rome was previously suspended for the rest of the playoffs for a borderline late hit on Bruin Nathan Horton, while in the same series Bruin Johnny Boychuk skated away without a penalty for a hit that broke Vancouver forward Mason Raymond's back when they were nowhere near the puck. Brad Marchand had also been not penalized for repeatedly punching Daniel Sedin in the head, in full view of the referees, during a stoppage in play. Add in various other Bruin playoff transgressions which were not penalized, like Andrew Ference giving the finger to the Montreal fans during a previous series, and other notorious instances of violent actions that inexplicably escaped punishment, such as the Zdeno Chara mugging of Max Pacioretty, and Milan Lucic's charge at Ryan Miller, and there resulted a pervasive impression that the Bruins were getting the kid glove treatment from the NHL.

So when Brad Marchand lowbridged Sami Salo, during the highly mediatized rematch of the baleful 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the NHL felt obliged, by the act itself and by the sum of its atrocious previous non-calls against the Boston team, to impose a significant suspension. Some felt it was too harsh, some felt it didn't go far enough, since Mr. Salo ended missing as many games himself, so the feeling was that the league had probably hit the right number. Much pathos emanated from the Bruins camp about Mr. Marchand needing to 'protect' himself, the media responded by strongly condemning his actions and admonishing him to not perpetrate such a dangerous play again.

In any logically coherent organization, two subsequent instances of a repeat offence would have drawn a harsher sentence. Not in the NHL. Because Mr. Subban and Mr. Emelin didn't pop an ACL or Bo Jackson their hip, it was declared that these instances of clipping didn't deserve any further attention.

Let's think about this. Let's say that I'm a rowdy ten-year old boy and while throwing rocks I break Madame Piotte's living room window. I'm going to catch hell from my dad, probably get the strap and no dessert for a week and no TV for a week or so. Unfair, but fair enough. Message is clear from mom and dad: don't throw rocks. Period. They'll tell me when they've calmed down that I can hurt someone and it's not something you do around people or cars or houses. So let's say a month later my mom and dad see me throwing rocks again. When I come home, they sit me down and say: "Well, since you didn't break any windows this time, no harm done. Go watch "Bobino" while we get dinner ready. There's blueberry pie for dessert!"

This is the theatre of the absurd that is the NHL. Somehow Mr. Marchand is caught doing the same thing twice more that he has been previously punished for, yet this time the behaviour is not corrected. This would be like if Todd Bertuzzi again assaulted players he had issued threats against, sucker punching them from behind, but this time the players didn't receive life-altering injuries like Steve Moore did, so Mr. Bertuzzi would escape discipline. Replay this example with Wilf Paiement and Dennis Polonich, or Marty McSorley and Donald Brashear, and you get the idea.

I don't know why I'm still surprised at the inanity of the NHL, I'm so naive, like Charlie Brown trusting that this time Lucy will hold the football for him when he goes to kick it. Maybe I think that shrugging off the status quo and not decrying the hypocrisy will further enable the people who are slowly throttling the sport.

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