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?

  • Hey Gregor,

    Having a Burmingham jersey is possibly the best thing I’ve read. Not only do you have one, it’s a practice jersey. You’re gonna want to frame that baby.

    2 game suspension for pantomiming a blowie is fair, the hit from behind wasn’t. One was funny, and looked ridiculous, while the hit from behind was stupid. Toss some stop signs on the back of their jerseys or something. Works in pee wee. Right? Right.

    • Jason Gregor

      It isn’t a practice jersey, it is a warm up jersey. They would wear jerseys in warm up, and then had ones for the game. The warm up jersey had a bit of a Euro flair to it, with one sponsor on it. I’ll get a pic of it. It is sweeet looking.

  • ubermiguel

    RE: Pominville Hit. C’mon Gregor, you answered your own question. “Pominville’s head wasn’t the initial point of contact.” That’s exactly why it’s NOT a check to the head.

    Call it what it is, intent to injure. 2 games is a joke.

    I’ve seen too many hits where the vunerable player turned towards the boards to put himself in a more vunerable postion, for whatever reason (e.g.: either to protect the puck or draw a penalty). Pominville’s position was perfect though, shoulder to the boards, watching the play. Hjalmarsson’s hit is the prototypical cheap-shot.

    • Jason Gregor

      But was it a blind-sided it? I would say yes, and the NHL said in the summer they wanted to crack down on blindsided hits. But only if the original contact is to the head. And that is jus stupid. A blindside shot can inflict lots of damage regardless of the initial point of contact.

      • Let's Rebuild

        A blindside hit, by it’s very definition, is a hit you don’t see coming. The rule to address hits to the head were to prevent what happened to guys like Booth when Richards clocked him.

        You don’t need to extend it to this case here because hits like the one Hjarmalsson are covered under hitting from behind and boarding.

        • Jason Gregor

          Pominville didn’t see the hit coming.

          And it doesn’t matter what the hit is covered under in my mind, what matters is how they enforce it.

          Blindsided hits can be just as dangerous as direct shots to the head. That was my point.

          The NHL said they were going to crack down on head shots and blindsided shots. Pominville didn’t see the hit coming, so to me that is a blindsided hit. Yes it was boarding, but it was also a blindsided hit.

          Those hits need to be cracked down on. It doesn’t matter what area you want to put them in. Enforce the rules and hold players accountable for cheap and stupid actions is what the NHL needs to do.

          • Any hit can be as dangerous as a direct shot to the head though, we can’t ban them all.

            The NHL is cracking down on blindside hits to the head. If a guy is skating through the middle of the ice with the puck and is looking the other way and you hammer him shoulder to chest, that is a blindside hit but should be (and is) totally legal.

            Even if he falls to the ice and hits his head and gets a concussion, that is (and should remain to be) a legal hit.

            The Hit on Pominville is already covered in the rules under boarding (or checking from behind). It was not a blindside hit (for the purpose of the newly implemented rule) because it didn’t intentionally target the head. What it was was either boarding or checking from behind which is a completely different rule.

          • Banger

            ~What would Mr.McLeod say if he knew you were posting on here during work Gregor?~

            The hardest thing with Hjallmersson (sp?) suspension, is malicious intent. He pinched on the play, because the forward wasn’t moving his feet, saw an opportunity to throw a hit (legal if Pominville turns to go up ice) and makes a bone-headed mistake and follows through while the guy is completely unaware.

            But there is a difference to that scenario, and him wanting to paste Pominville because of something said/done. We’ll never know why he made the hit, whether it was a bad hockey play, or an attempt to hurt him, but that should matter when the Colon Campbell levies out a suspension.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            I could be wrong but not seeing the hit coming doesn’t really mean that the hit is suspendable, does it?

            They were still going to allow hits to heads when guys are skating with their heads down.

            Edit: Watched the hit again, you can see Pominville see the hit and turn his head back to looking away. Pominville just stood there. I’d also add that Hjarlmmsson coasted into him from about 20 feet away.

          • Jason Gregor

            A blind side hit, is not straight on. I think we would all see the difference. Pominville didn’t even have the puck. How do you say a guy is in the wrong when he doesn’t have the puck yet. It was a cheap hit.

      • ubermiguel

        I think you and I agree for the most part. I just don’t think this hit is a hit-to-the-head. Maybe there needs to be a “blindsided” rule to cover hits like this. One that doesn’t count if a guy that sees the hit coming then turns into the boards.

        That Brendan Shinnimin hit is a good example. Josh Nicholls was 10 feet from the boards, it wasn’t a hit to the head, but you don’t need to blindside a guy like that. At least the WHL has the right idea on suspensions.

  • Chris.

    Re hockey in Florida. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the income sharing schemes finite in nature? I mean teams can only draw shared league income for three or four seasons in a row right?

  • D-Man

    Hey Gregor,

    Good article… I agree with you that the league dropped the ball on the suspension, but one has to wonder when the players themselves start holding themselves accountable. I’m not talking about Hjalmarrson, but Pominville… The way he had positioned himself was brutal… I think most of us here can agree he should have had his back to the wall so he could a) see the play and b) see the defender… Too many players skilled or 3rd line grinders seem to be putting themselves in vulnerable positions to allow these hits to occur.

    I’m not saying this hit was Pominville’s own fault, but whether it be the NHL or NHLPA, someone has to teach these players to play with a bit more game awareness.

  • Rob...

    Every game you watch you can clearly hear many F-bomb’s and read plenty more on the lips of players. I understand the graphic nature of the James Wisniewski gesture that has prudes going nuts but can we at least be honest about the level of hypocracy involved in punishing him for it? Or does someone want to argue that the F-bombs are perfectly acceptible and above reproach? Do we need to hire the Church Lady to review gameday tapes and levy fines?

    • Ender

      I think the NHL should take a page from another major entertainment sector; the motion picture industry. They have it figured out and clearly defined; a Mary-Poppins type film gets you a G-rating. Throw in a bit of bad language and a punch to the head and you’ve now got a PG tag. Guy starts making a ‘sword-swallowing’ gesture and you’re into Mature territory. The point is, the producer and director decide who their audience is and they monitor the content to keep it appropriate. They know full well that if they make a movie for 8-year olds and the censors give it a mature rating because they flashed a bit too much skin, the movie is not going to be nearly as successful.

      If the NHL decides that their target audience is a Mature-level audience, then they don’t need to monitor or punish the language and gestures as harshly. Of course, that will affect the number of kids that are allowed to watch the games, the channels and times that the games are allowed to broadcast on, and ultimately impact their market share of major sporting revenue.

      On the other hand, if the NHL wants to keep things PG to attract the widest possible audience, then they need to be pretty firm to ensure that their show keeps to those standards in the minds of its audience, its sponsors, and its broadcast partners.

  • Agreed on the suspensions. Though I would have given Wisniewski only one game. The hit is the kind of stuff the nhl needs to get rid of. But I guess the nhl sees bj miming = attempted neck breaking.

  • Was in Phoenix about 3 years ago and went to a nascar race and and a Monday Night football game, also went to a Coyotes game when we were there. We sat 4 rows off center ice right behind Gretz on the bench. Paid $11.00 for the tickets and it was free food night at the consession. Announced attendance at that game was 5630. Tell me why that team is not back in Canada someplace?

  • Mouse

    I wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs are upset that you are Theleafsnation.com given that they say that they are the “The Official Site Of Leafs Nation” … just saying..

  • Dyckster

    Love these articles Jason, keep ’em coming! Even without the Icegirl(s) feature….honest.

    Re: Horcoff’s goal, right from the 2010-2011 NHL Rulebook – “If an attacking player has the puck deflect into the net, off his skate
    or body, in any manner, the goal shall be allowed.”

    Disallowed goal = “(ii) When the puck has been kicked using a distinct kicking motion.”

    Imho, even though thy Captain’s foot moved forward, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t a deflection. To me, he was putting his foot in the path of the puck, it ultimately entered the net on the forward motion caused by Hall’s pass. If the puck’s forward propulsion was a direct result of Horc kicking it, then that would be deemed a disallowed goal.

    • Mouse

      In reference to Horcoff’s goal: I seem to remember that you can only redirect the puck into the net, not change the entire direction of the puck.

      The example from last year was the disallowed goal by a Sedin where he was flying to the front of the net and started stopping as he got really close to the goalie. The other sister passed her the puck hard from behind the net, it hit her skate and went in. There was no kicking motion, but the issue of thrust was brought up. Since the player completely changed the direction of the puck with her skate, the goal was disallowed. I can still remember the tears of every Canuck fan fondly (even though I had Mrs Daniel Sedin in my pool)

      I would have thought the Horcoff goal was the same case, as the puck was not even going towards the net when it hit Horcoff’s skate. Not that I am complaining though.

  • Phil

    ATL sure got some nice trim boy I tell ya.

    I remember my first time in Georgia, sun kissed blondes with curves and booties like WHOA.

    Pretty much the only good thing about having hockey down south is their Ice Girls.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Sigh…all is right with the world again.

    These are my favorite articles because they give a great overview of everything that is happening throughout the league*. Great summary! Thanks Gregor!

    *actually, it is because of the ice girl. I didn’t even read the rest.

  • book¡e

    Great article. I agree the NHL missed the boat, and I loved the cartoon…$%^$ hits the fan. Great stuff. Candace is dreamy and I think Bobrovsky will be the real deal. Go Flyers and Oilers.