AROUND THE LEAGUE: WEEK ONE

The first week in the NHL had everything the league could ask for; great goals, big saves, exciting hockey, big fights, but they also saw a few things they wish had never happened.

James Wisniewski was suspended for the third time in twelve months, and I can guarantee you he will go down as the only guy in NHL history to get suspended for his “Sean I hear you’re a sword swallower,” obscene gesture.

I can’t see anyone trying to mimic his stupidity in the future.

While some of you probably laughed at his gesture, there is no place for it in the game; and society for that matter. I’m fine with his two game suspension, but once again the NHL looked ridiculous, when they gave him the same two-game suspension as Nicklas Hjalmarsson for his cheap hit on Jason Pominville.

You can’t compare the two actions, because they are completely different. However, the NHL handed out the suspensions within hours of one another Tuesday afternoon, and the optics weren’t good.

Wisniewski’s actions were immature, inappropriate and made him look like a fool, but he didn’t hurt anyone other than himself. Hjalmarsson made a dangerous, stupid play and he had ample time to recognize that Pominville was in a vulnerable position.

In the summer the NHL came up with a new rule to try and curb headshots, but it seems they are only concerned about direct shots to the head, not blows in the back or shoulder that result in a player slamming his head into the boards or glass. Watch the Hjalmarsson again and you’ll see Pominville’s head bounces directly off the glass as a result of the hit.

How is this not considered a head shot? Here’s how the new rule was written:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principle point of contact is not permitted.

While Pominville’s head wasn’t the initial point of contact, his head took the brunt of the blow and subsequently concussed him. If it is a clean hit to the shoulder and a player’s head hits the glass, to me, that is part of the game, but this hit was illegal and dirty.

It seems it is only a head shot in the eyes of the NHL if the initial contact is to the head.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the head shot rule, but I can’t understand how a version of this hit wasn’t taken into account when writing up a new rule. We see more hits from behind or blind hits from the side, than we do direct shots to the head.

I’m okay with Wisniewski’s two games, but the NHL should have used the timing of the suspensions to their advantage.

Slapping Hjalmarsson with a five gamer would have set a new precedent for an illegal “hit-to-the-body-that-impacts-the-head,” and the NHL would have finally looked like they were serious in trying to get cheap shots out of the game. I love hard hits, and I understand players will get hurt sometimes, but the NHL has created a culture of “I was trying to make a play, so it’s not my fault,” and it needs to stop.

No suspension will automatically stop cheap plays. The speed of the game will always incite a wrong decision now and then, but clearly the players aren’t getting the message. Pominville didn’t even have the puck, and he was in that vulnerable position for a few seconds before Hjalmarsson delivered the blow. You can’t tell me it was a wrong split-second decision by the Hawk defender.

Five games would have sent an early message to the rest of the league that cheap shots will cost a player a significant amount of games and money. It also would have shown that league officials consider cheap hits worse than some cheap, childish and immature obscene gesture.

The most egregious part of the suspension is that Hjalmarsson’s first game back after sitting out two games will be against the very same Buffalo Sabres. A three-game suspension would have avoided any possible retribution being handed out by the Sabres, but I guess the NHL doesn’t have a schedule in their office.

Not a great start for the NHL in handing out suspensions, or realizing that shots from the side or behind that don’t initially target the head or just as dangerous as direct blows to the head.

ICE WOMAN OF THE WEEK

~I’m surprised this feature got so much play last year,~ but due to the constant demands we will continue to showcase the best Ice Women the NHL has to offer.

Say hello to Candace who is in her fourth year with the BLUE CREW of the Atlanta Thrashers.

This lovely short-hair is in honour of my former Ice-Women selector, Laurie, a sexy short-hair herself, whose job has limited her time and won’t allow her to be our main selector. Kudos to Laurie for your keen eye, and know that the Nations will miss your selections.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • It’s pretty cool that the Nation has expanded to the centre of the universe and launched theleafsnation.com Wanye almost sheet himself when Internet giant, Greg Wyshynski – aka Puck Daddy – tweeted about the 4th child of the Nation clan. Welcome to the Nation Leaf fans, and Wanye wants you to know he is taking all the credit for your surprising 3-0 start. Just don’t remind him that his beloved Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since he launched Oilersnation.
  • Alex Ovechkin has four goals in four games, and two of them have been game winners. He had seven last year. Clarke MacArthur, who the Thrashers walked away from after arbitration, also has four goals and two game winners for the Leafs. In his previous 208 games MacArthur had four GWG.
  • There have been some great tilts early this year, and some clear KOs, but the Colton Orr/Deryk Engelland fight made me laugh. Not because Orr lost, but because of the AGH cam. I love how a hospital sponsors the zoom in shot.

  • The more I hear Ray Ferraro, the more I’m convinced he is the best analyst in the game. I wish TSN would use him more.
  • It is only two games, but is there a bigger surprise in the NHL than unknown, Sergei Bobrovsky? The Flyers’ rookie netminder is 2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .931 SV%. He has the best blueline in the NHL in front of him, so he might be able to keep it up. I wonder if he was chosen in any fantasy drafts? If you took him before the season started, take a bow.
  • If the Leafs become a legitimate playoff contender, I wonder how many other GMs will be trying to sign NCAA free agents for cheap next summer?
  • Eric Francis reported that Jay Feaster was brought in because Darryl and Brent Sutter don’t communicate well enough to each other. You think? I’m sure Brent was doing cartwheels when Darryl told him that Olli Jokinen was going to be his first line centre in the summer, after trading him away in March. Something tells me that Feaster will be the GM before the season ends, with D. Sutter getting a promotion/demotion to President of hockey operations.
  • If the Sedins stay healthy, look for Daniel to get 50 goals. They make plays that no other tandem in the league makes with the same regularity. Backstrom and Ovechkin are close, but they don’t complete as many stunning passes.
  • I loved the LA Kings retro jerseys. Their old logo is great, and I like the jerseys with no name bars on the back. I don’t buy a lot of jerseys, in fact I only own three, the green Hartford Whalers, a teal Miami Dolphins and a Birmingham Bulls warm up jersey, but I’m leaning towards the Kings’ retro look.
  • Panther GM, Dale Tallon, was livid after his Panthers’ lost 3-2 to the Oilers. “How do they allow Horcoff’s goal? I’ve seen worse kicks in a Vegas Chorus line,” he said when I ran into him going down the stairs to the dressing rooms after the game. I thought Tallon had a valid complaint. The Oilers got a break on Horcoff’s eventual game winner.
  • Patrick Kaleta is quickly becoming the newest punk in the NHL. He left his feet to hit a Devil, then used his head as a battering ram into the chest of Travis Zajak, and then gave him a love-tap headbutt. He is a joke, and hopefully someone teaches him a lesson sooner than later.
  • If you are keeping track Carolina, Dallas, Colorado, Tampa and LA have wins that won’t be as valuable as real wins in case of a tiebreaker.
  • Only six teams have yet to lose a game this year. (I count OT and SO as real losses). Who do you think will still be undefeated by this time next week, out of the Leafs, Oilers, Predators, Stars, Blues and Lightning? Strangely enough, five of these teams missed the playoffs last year. I think it is great when a team can start 8-0 so hopefully a few of them are still perfect by next week.
  • The NFL didn’t have a single 4-0 team this year for the first time since 1970. My Miami Dolphins didn’t even have time to chill the champagne before popping the cork when the last undefeated team fell.

PARTING SHOT…

I want to thank all of those for sending me your thoughts/tweets at @JasonGregor. I can’t respond to all of them, but I do reply to most. Your questions and comments are great, so keep them coming.

My sobering tweet of the week comes courtesy of @nmizera:

“@JasonGregor It is ridiculous that the Panthers are selling tickets cheaper than the Oil Kings.”

That isn’t a knock on the Oil Kings, but how ridiculous it is in Florida that they are selling seats for a measly $9.

Tell me again Mr. Bettman how the NHL is working in South Florida?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Great article Jason. Keep them coming.

    Here are a few thoughts i would like to express in a rant. Regards to the Pominville hit. Totally agree that there should of been a more lengthy suspension. That hit was pretty dirty. To everyone that says he should of had his back to the boards, maybe. The only reason i think it was dirty was because he didnt have to hit him that hard in that position. Hit him, take him off the puck and get it down the ice. Period. He wants to hit him hard cool, but he took a good run at him. Didn’t have to murder him. In regards to the Horcoff goal…. Come on. I have seen way more goals that were a lot worse then that be allowed. Seriously, remember the old crease rule. Tell me there wasnt garbage being taken away and being allowed (’99 finals anyone. The goal that changed the rule). Do I think the goal should of been allowed? Why not. He put his foot in front of the puck and a defender was on him. I know if the pucks coming towards me and my foots there and i can defect it into the net without kicking it I’m not moving it and neither are any of you. Finally on the TSN commentators loving the leafs….SO what! They love the leafs as a team. Listening to the penguins and leafs game and hearing how many times the penguins commentators were praising the “god of hockey” Sidney Crosby. I swear he was paying them a $100 bucks everytime they said his name. They made 5,000 each easy. I love Sid the kid but come on there was a game being played. Are they also as bad as the Red Wings commentators? Good god you thought Datsyuk won the world title when he fought corey perry. “He threw about 100 punched and showed Perry he can go”. Really 100? Wow.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    Agree with your views on Ferraro.

    My guess is Tampa is the last undefeated team in the league if the Oil don’t go 82-0. And that’s a big if.

  • Clyde Frog

    They aren’t selling them for $9 in Florida… It’s actually cheaper than that! That $9 included parking!!

    I guess if you are looking to see how well the NHL is doing in the south, well it would appear less well than the CFL as it costs more to go to an Eskies game.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I know Ferraro got crapped on when he was here from other teams fans, but I really liked that he does his homework. He knows things about both teams, not like say Kelly Hrudey who spent a good chunk of a segment talking about Peckham played himself onto this team.

    It’ll be interesting to see what Bobvrosky can do over the course of the year. He does have a pretty decent team in front of him, so that should make things easier on the kid.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    Here’s a crazy thought. Penalize the player getting hit. I wonder how many players would put themselves in these vulnerable positions knowing, not only are they going to get crushed, but they will also be penalized for it. I suspect the number of hits from behind would drop significantly.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Not sure we want the refs or the league using more judgement to who is putting themselves in danger. Maybe if they do something similar to the whole diving fine that no one really hears about?

      The one problem I see is the NHL only takes action when someone gets hurt or the hit looks bad. You don’t see anyone saying anything when a guy gets hit from behind in behind the play in the middle of the ice.

      Maybe it’s time for the NHL to take a page out of minor hockey and automatic suspension for any hit from behind or blindside hit etc…

      I’d also like them to take it one step further and fine guys that take a run at a guy and miss, but I don’t see that happening.

  • Woogie

    Jason,

    A friend told me this so I thought I would ask. Is it true that Kipper not only smokes cigarettes however smokes between periods?

    ***God I hope he doesn’t because I have $5.00 on this bet***

  • DougWeightProblem

    Not sure if its been mentioned, but I believe Gregor touched on it in the article. Wisniewski has had three suspensions in the past twelve months, so perhaps his suspension was more severe than normal, given his recent history. Hjalmarsson, on the other hand, is a first-time offender and perhaps this is more of a warning than any real discipline. I’m not saying I agree with it, and had it been me instead of Colin Campbell it would have been 1 for Wisniewski and 5 for Hjalmarsson, but maybe that’s the NHL’s reasoning.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    I think the NHL are scared to death to have to hand out a 5 or 6 games suspension to an Ovechkin, Pronger etc in the playoffs so they temper things during the season.

    On Ferraro, agree. He demonstrates he probably has more hockey intelligence than any other analyst out there IMO, and he can really articulate his points.

  • the-wolf

    When are people going to realize that this club is nothing but a mess?

    2004 was not the start of something, it was an anomaly. The same as all the other teams that found chemistry and rode a hot goalie until almost the end.

    Last season was not an anomaly. That was the trend. Since game 7 in 2006 the Flames have been just a little bit worse every subsequent year until they missed the playoffs last season. Bringing back the same team plus Tanguay is not the solution.

    The real problem with this team is that even if all the stars and planets align just perfectly and everyone from Iginla to Jokinen to Tanguay to Bouwmeester hit career year ties or averages, then what?

    They’d still run out of gas in the post-season. Even with the perfect match-up in the 1st round, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever get past the 2nd round. And next season, with everyone yet another year older? Repeat? Uh-huh. Right. Sure.

    And there’s the rub. There’s no plan, no formula to build a contender. Just scractch and claw and hope things go OK and your goalie drags you into the playoffs “where everyone is automatically a contender.” This team is a one year roll of the dice at best, building towards nothing, having no future and no real chance of winning anything. And when the average bear of a fan finally realizes it, those imperssive season ticket numbers won’t be so impressive any more.

  • the-wolf

    2 out of 3 games with no goals.

    Alas, I remember it well. Sitting in Flames Central at the Town Hall meeting with Darryl and Ken and a wise man asking why they chose to keep Jokinen over Cammalleri?

    “I really like the idea of a 6’3″ centre and I think the playoffs (2009)really showed the limitations of a small man in a big man’s game,” sayeth Darryl-the-wise.

    One post-season and 13 goals later and this stuck in the 70’s GM is still allowed to run this club into the ground.

    A team once built from draft picks and blessed with skill and talent. Now, a complete dearth of picks and a fan base brainwashed into thinking our identity has to be a rough-and-tumble, gritty, western, down-and-dirty yee-hah! team.

    Only stat worth looking at: once past the first in 21 years. Trying to stay competitive all the time does not work. Time to rebuild.