When will the NHL take action?

  The image of Todd Bertuzzi’s egregious sucker punch on Steve Moore has been cemented firmly in the minds of hockey fans. Now, almost exactly six years later, the NHL finds itself finally dealing with the issue of hits to the head and checking from behind. Homers criticize the league for even considering a crackdown on dangerous hitting, saying that it will take the physicality out of the game. For most hockey fans, however, there is only one question: “Gary Bettman, what the hell took you so long?”

The Steve Moore incident began on February 16, 2004, when Moore, a fourth line player for the Colorado Avalanche, delivered an elbow to the head of NHL leading scorer, and Canuck captain Markus Naslund. The hit, which went un-penalized, sidelined Naslund for three games with a minor concussion and a bone-chip in his elbow. The next time the Avs and Nucks met, Moore left the ice on a stretcher courtesy of a Bertuzzi sucker punch. He has not played a game since.

Todd Bertuzzi served a 20 game suspension, but if Moore had somehow managed to walk away from the attack unscathed, Bertuzzi most likely would have faced little more than a few games in the press box as a penalty for his dirty and dangerous play.

After a couple of dirty hits in the past weeks, the league is finally fast-tracking a rule to outlaw headhunting and hits from behind, hopefully implementing it before the beginning of the playoffs. Although the dangerous hitting is an issue, the larger issue is how inconsistently the league administers suspensions.

When Matt Cooke recently delivered a clear-cut headshot to Bruins forward Marc Savard, the league did not suspend him. Cooke has made a career out of getting under the skin of opponents through slightly or blatantly dirty play. When he played with the Canucks, I loved his “intensity”, but now that I no longer look at him through blue and green glasses, I see him for what Don Cherry has always seen him as, “a gutless, back-stabbing fu... I can’t say what I called him.” If the NHL would have nipped Cooke’s behavior in the bud, this hit on Savard could have been avoided.

Anaheim’s James Wisniewski, who received an eight game suspension for his flying elbow on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, highlights the inconsistency of the NHL. This hit was dangerous, and did leave Seabrook with a concussion, but was it really worse than Cooke’s hit? Maybe, but not worse enough to warrant Wisniewski receiving eight games more suspension than Cooke.

Unfortunately, the NHL’s treatment of its star players does not re-enforce its new found disdain for dirty play. When dealing with superstars, even those with a history of taking cheap-shots, the NHL extends special treatment. Alexander Ovechkin’s hit from behind on Brian Campbell was as dirty as they come, and all this repeat offender/superstar will miss for taking out Campbell, another star player, is two games. This suspension is little more than a slap on the wrist. The NHL needs to disregard star power, and send a message to its players that dangerous hits will not be tolerated. In an interview after the March 14th game in which Campbell was hurt, Ovechkin said, “I didn't mean to make someone injured, but you know, it's a hockey game." The most popular player in the NHL has no semblance of what a fair hit is, and the league needs to address this. Actually handing out punishment would be a good place to start.

//Colin May

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