EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Brutality, too.
When the Los Angeles Kings’ Jarret Stoll crunched San Jose’s Ian White in Game 1 last Thursday, the National Hockey League dealt him a one-game suspension.
When San Jose’s Jason Demers launched himself at the Kings’ Ryan Smyth in the same game and banged him in the head, there was no suspension and no penalty.
When the Anaheim Ducks’ Bobby Ryan placed his skate blade on top of the foot of Nashville’s Jonathon Blum in Game 2 of that series, he was disinvited to participate in Games 3 and 4.
And when Vancouver’s Raffi Torres spotted an unsuspecting Brent Seabrook in Chicago on Sunday, behind the Blackhawks’ net and with no puck at hand, and blasted him in the head with his shoulder, he was given an interference call (which led to a Blackhawks goal). But on Monday, Torres was cleared by the head office.
There is general agreement among all NHL teams when such things happen:
Egregious hits have no place in the game.
And we’ll stop providing them whenever you do.
Stoll watched Game 2 from the press box in San Jose. The Kings, deprived of their top two centers with Anze Kopitar injured, still beat San Jose, 4-0, to tie the series, 1-1.
White, who missed Game 2, was back for Game 3, played on Tuesday night.
“There wasn’t any intent to injure the guy,” Stoll said. “I knew him in junior and he’s a good guy, and as far as I’m concerned it’s behind us.
“You gotta go in knowing what the consequences are. It depends on the position the player is in. He can be in a very vulnerable situation. You can’t finish your check on them or get your elbow up or whatever it might be. Sometimes you might have to turn away.”
Turn away? In the playoffs, when you’re asked to shed a quart of blood for every inch of ice?
It is somewhat difficult to transform oneself from a commando to a gentleman in a quarter of a second.
“I should have held back on Ian White even more than I did,” Stoll said. “I tried to hold back a little bit. It’s on all players’ minds now.”
Well, on some minds.
As Chicago’s Patrick Sharp said of Torres, “He played eight or nine minutes and never even had the puck. It’s obvious what he was trying to do.”
Torres had just spent a game in the NHL gulag for going after Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, which means another suspension might have turned him into Matt Cooke West. Cooke, the Pittsburgh recidivist, is an outcast through the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s hard to know where the line is,” said Kings coach Terry Murray, who didn’t think Torres should have been suspended.
“But that’s the part we have to learn. There is danger. You’re traveling at high speed. There’s a lot of players who are getting into positions that are a little more vulnerable. There has to be greater awareness to it.”
The league absolved Torres because he came from the front, approximately, and implied that Seabrook should have seen him.
That is the point often made by the Ducks’ Todd Marchant, who says players are dropping their responsibility to protect themselves.
The carnage was not unforeseen. When rules against interference were enforced in 2006-07, it was widely predicted that defensemen would become chum in the water.
“Nowadays you see forwards taking defensemen into the boards with no intention of actually taking away the puck,” said Bob Murray, the Ducks general manager.
What to do?
It’s complicated because the actions are so quick and the hits are so divergent. As Marchant said, where else is Boston’s Zdeno Chara supposed to hit somebody but the head? He is 6-foot-9 before he even puts on his skates.
But to cut out gratuitous mayhem, the league needs to expand the penalty apparatus.
Charging happens when a player skates willfully and throws himself into someone else, without any thought of capturing a puck.
So why not make charging an automatic, 5-minute penalty that is served in full, regardless of how many goals are scored?
The intolerable sight of a 2-0 lead becoming a 4-2 deficit would clean up the game posthaste.