Friday, 17 April 2015

The P.K. Subban slash, "a failure to communicate", and signal-to-noise.

"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

The quote from the warden in "Cool Hand Luke" applies to the NHL, specifically in terms of a signal-to-noise ratio.  The NHL, its Director of Crooked Operations Colin "Daddy" Campbell, and its cadre of cowed on-ice officials, trapped in a job they can't possibly love anymore, trapped by their salaries and the memory of a game they remember as once being pretty cool, allow so much background chaff, so much low to medium-level nonsense, goonery, routine allowable crosschecking in retaliation for the offence of a player having the temerity to stand somewhere, that incidents like P.K.'s reckless slash on Mark Stone are inevitable.

They're slashing us, so we slash them back with a little extra vim, and they're not going to stand for it, so they put some elbow grease in their subsequent slashes, and you can hear the contact of the slashes on the padding of the recipient.  And then P.K.'s on the ice killing a penalty, and has been trained to expect that in these situations, unless he guillotines an opponent's head clean off, he'll get away with any level of mayhem short of flipping the puck into the stands.  So he takes a good old-fashioned swipe at a player (I think it was player #61) in front of his net, to "let him know he's there" like Nick Kypreos would intone approvingly.

Except it smacks Player #61 right on the wrist, where there's little padding with those newfangled gloves, compared to the gloves I used to wear, and it really smarts.  Player #61 reacts in pain and surprise, and then, to ensure that the refs don't miss that this was a bad one, hams it up like a midfielder with perfectly bouffanted hair.  He's not cheating, exactly, it's a question of shading, of tone.  Of signal to noise.

This slash needs to stand out, it must stand out from the background noise of slashing that's been established.  It doesn't do Player #61 any good to stand upright, wince and shake his hand, or skate to the bench doubled over, all that's going to do is get the talking heads to chuckle and bleat "Hudson's Bay rules", followed by, "the zebras have put the whistles away", a bon mot, and then "they're letting them play."  Everything is happening.

So he falls to the ice, no harm in that, it's not like he's Kramer wearing the pants he wants to return and he's about to fall in mud, and then Player #61 gives it an extra roll or two, might as well merylstreep it at that point, commit to the performance.

We see it all the time.  David Desharnais or Brendan Gallagher are trying to get at the puck, do something with it, play some actual hockey, but the grinders and the checkers, the guys who are in the NHL to prevent hockey from happening, are tugging and holding and hooking them and crosschecking them and punching them behind the head, and it's okay, it's 'defensive hockey'.  So when next they're hacking away at Tomas Plekanec and he's banking into a turn and he's not going to be able to make a play, Tomas kind of allows the force of the hack to trip him, make him fall to the ice.  What's the point of fighting through it?  You don't get any brownie points for it.

The NHL thinks that it cancels out, that at the end of the game both teams will have a few penalties, and will have gotten away with an equivalent number of transgressions.  Except that it doesn't.  The muckers, the anti-hockey players, the Eric Grybas and the Chris Neils, they prosper in that environment.  The Bruins and the truculent Leafs win in that exchange.

And the fans get to sit some more, and wait, until such a time as Alex Galchenyuk can fight through a thicket, a veritable forest of slashes and hooks and manage for a couple of seconds to appear as if he can get in a position where he can make a pass or a play, and then they can feel some anticipatory excitement, before the next salvo of a half-dozen hooks and slashes and the manoeuvre aborts and a Mark Borowiecki can golf the puck off the boards.

That's entertainment.

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