By now, we have all seen the hit that Steve Downie laid on Dean McAmmond, and heard about the 20 game suspension the NHL imposed on him. It’s the rare person that finds the suspension too heavy, most seeming to fell he got what was coming to him. I’m fine with the amount, and have no issue with it. I hope it sends a message to all players that such behaivor is intolerable (until it is tolerated, as the NHL selectively does), and that the example of Downie carries some weight throughout the league.
NHL vice-president Colin Campbell doesn’t think he’s sending a message, though, just doing what he said he would. From the Toronto Star:
But Campbell said he wasn’t delivering a message to players yesterday. That, he said, was clearly passed on already after the league’s summer meetings. Each team received the list of what types of head hits would get a player suspended, an edict backed up by an instructional videotape.
“(When) we sent that tape out, that was the message. This isn’t the message. That was the message. I didn’t think it was going to happen this soon and I didn’t think it would be this clear-cut,” Campbell said.
“The players are fully aware of what’s not acceptable now.”
Except they obviously aren’t. If they were fully aware, this wouldn’t have happened, right? If they were fully aware, a first round draft pick, even one with a reputation, wouldn’t be doing it. Sure, Downie is a rookie, and maybe trying a little too hard to land a spot on the team. But that isn’t any excuse for what he did, and ignorance is no excuse for breaking the rules.
So, what are the players supposed to be fully aware of? Again, from the Star:
That four factors that could lead to additional discipline for a headshot are:
When a player targets an opponent’s head.
When a player launches himself by leaving his feet to hit a player on or near the head.
When the hit to the head is delivered to an unsuspecting opponent.
The timing (lateness) of a hit.
And from the Downie hit, it’s a grand slam. Yep, yep, yep, and yep. All four are there, and that added up to 20 games. Of course, head hits still aren’t outlawed.
Campbell, though, made it clear that just because a check is delivered to the head, it doesn’t mean a suspension will be automatically forthcoming.
“Any of those criteria could get you suspended. At the same time, we wanted to keep hitting in the game,” Campbell said. “And legal checks to the head would be allowed if they were delivered in a legal fashion.”
Legal checks to the head. That phrase carries a lot of weight for the hockey fan. On the surface of it, the image of stretchers hauling players off the ice, or the news that a player may miss the rest of a season, or the rest of a career thanks to a legal check to the head. The feeling is that the NHL is not on board with fan sentiment on this one. If I were a player, I would want to feel that the league had my best interest in mind with head shots. Then again, the players may feel they don’t want a 20 game suspension, either. Catch-22.
I can understand the league backing off from a no-head-hit policy. In the all or nothing world of the NHL (league, broadcasting, money), I wouldn’t want to rule out incidental and accidental contact.
What Colin Campbell has to establish now is consistency. The message wasn’t in the video tape that was sent around, and it certainly isn’t in the suspension of Downie. The message is yet to come. The message will be loud and clear the next time there is an incident of this type. It shouldn’t matter if the perpetrator is Sidney Crosby or the next Scott Stevens. The rulings have to be consistent, no matter what. Everyone has heard of the Campbell wheel of justice. The players will test the system, and that system has to be even. Anything less calls the standards the league sets into question.
So, what happens to Downie now? Does he sit on his butt for 20 games? Sure, if he were a Flyer. From the Globe and Mail:
The Philadelphia Flyers sent suspended forward Steve Downie down to the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League on Saturday.
More from ESPN.com:
According to a report from TSN of Canada, Downie will be ineligible to play until his case is reviewed by AHL commissioner David Andrews. The AHL can uphold or alter the suspension or dismiss it. Regardless of the AHL’s call, Downie will still need to sit out 20 NHL games.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told reporters Friday that the team plans to have Downie serve the NHL suspension in blocks, calling him up from time to time to serve the 20 games
“He can go the American League and play,” Holmgren was quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Daily News. “Our plan is to make this suspension go away as quickly as possible. And because of our cap situation, we’re probably going to have to get creative.”
Holmgren added that the 20-year-old forward would be recalled to the big club on days the AHL team is not playing.
“I’ve talked to the league about this,” Holmgren told local reporters. “When we carry him on our roster, we’re pushing the limit of the cap, so there is punishment to the Flyers, as well.”
Cry me a river. That is what happens when your players do stupid things. Respect the game, and it will respect you.
I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this one.
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