Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ryan White gets five games. Okay. Now what about Steve Ott and Colton Orr?

Ryan White's play that got him a five-game suspension is typical of a lot of these head-hunting checks that land the recipient in the Quiet Room, as well as pretty much all 'knee on knee' incidents: the checker has one goal in mind, which is to deliver a (hopefully) punishing check on a target, zeroes in from a long enough distance that when the conditions change, when the target deviates or veers off course, he doesn't have the flexibility or skill or adaptability to scrap the idea and try something else, like play the puck maybe.

Instead, the player is 'on the train tracks' and can't deviate or abort mission, and as the target moves out of collision range, the checker has to lean in with a shoulder, or extend out the elbow, or flare out the knee to make some kind of contact, and not get caught way out of position with the target now past him, free and clear.  The checker is committed to one act, which is to lay out the target until next Tuesday with a clean, punishing hit, but doesn't have the skating skills to accomplish this, or the talent to try anything else, like playing the friggin' puck maybe.

How we end up with the Steve Otts and Matt Cookes and Raffi Torres polluting the game is by allowing them to continue to play their brand of SmashUp Derby hockey, without consequence when they take out Marc Savard and Marian Hossa.  That's how Colton Orr, who wouldn't know a puck if it caught him so flush in the teeth that he ended up swallowing it, can assault Tomas Plekanec in the middle of the ice and potentially end his season but get away scot-free.  The rules protect Colton Orr more than they protect Tomas Plekanec.

The odd thing about this is that these specific rules don't protect NHL owners well at all, since their most valuable commodities, their highly-talented players, are constantly at risk of being idled for weeks or months or whole seasons.  You would think that they'd tell the Brian Burkes and the Brendan Shanahans what's what, that they'd give them strict marching orders to protect their investments, the $10M players who draw in the fans who buy ten dollar beers.  Like, I don't know, how the NFL protects its quarterbacks with ever-stricter rules governing how they may not be hit (below the knees, on the head, after the ball is gone, when in the pocket, if their name has the letter B-A-R-D-Y in it), or the way the NBA doesn't allow Kobe or LeBron to get fouled (flagrant fouls are automatic ejections, fines and suspensions).  You would think that an NHL owner, who has to pay a player his salary whether he's healthy enough to play or not, would make sure that his $7M player wasn't getting paid to talk to doctors, while another plug is called up and given a raise from $50 000 to $500 000 to sub in.

So for poor old Whitey, sorry to say this, but five games is harsh but on the low end of what he should get.  Lots of commenters weigh in and say that he has to play with an edge, he has to bring a physical dimension to be effective in the NHL.  That's agreed.  Yet he's not devoid of talent, as we've explored before.  The Canadiens moved up to snatch him up in the third round of the 2006 draft when they felt he was falling way past where he should have gone, in a class where he was ranked above Ben Maxwell and Milan Lucic by Central Scouting.

If Ryan can play hockey, he'll find a way to contribute and have a decent career.  If however the only thing he can do is crash and bang and fight, and he's getting himself penalized and suspended out of the league, well then so be it.  The game will be better for it if he and others of his ilk are weeded out of the league and guys like David Desharnais and Michael Grabner are given a bigger role and better chance.

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