Friday, March 21, 2008

Penalizing Based On Prestige

The great band Thin Lizzy released a classic song called "Bad Reputation" back in the '70s that is quite relevant to the current situation in the NHL - the lyrics are below, and music video here.

You got a bad reputation
That's the word out on the town
It gives a certain fascination
But it can only bring you down

You better turn yourself around
Turn yourself around
Turn it upside down
Turn yourself around

You had bad breaks well that's tough luck
You play too hard too much rough stuff
You're too sly so cold
That bad reputation has made you old

Turn yourself around
Turn yourself around
Turn it upside down
Turn yourself around

Penalizing players based on their reputation is a topic that recently was debated when Chris Pronger was awarded a paltry eight game suspension compared to Chris Simon's 30, as they both committed the heinous sin of stomping. To be honest, I didn't address it as there is no way justice would be served - Pronger deserved to be thrown out of the playoffs for elbowing but got one game because he is Chris Pronger, EA Sports coverboy and a Hart and Norris Trophy winner. And as for Simon, well I felt he should have been banned from hockey for being a barbarian.

So why bring it up?

Because tonight the Rangers are facing the Flyers and Ryan Hollweg will make his return to the lineup. Hollweg, who was on Gary Bettman's hit-to-hurt list along with Jordin Tootoo and Derek Boogaard, was getting penalized pretty much whether or not he actually did something wrong. Earlier this season he was elbowed by Alex Kovalev and the refs did nothing, setting up his outrageous hit on Sergei Kostitsyn. So what happens? Hollweg gets physically hurt and his reputation gets hurt yet again. Meanwhile, it was his reputation that averted the refs eyes in the first place.

Holly isn't the only one - Dan Carcillo, the NHL's penalty minute leader, is in the same situation, except the refs have a no tolerance policy - as in, they can't tolerate him so the second he does anything, he gets slapped with a 10 minute misconduct in addition to the initial penalty. He has eight 10 minute misconducts and four game misconducts in 50 games. The officiating has done well to slow the development of what could be a solid NHLer (he has eight goals and nine assists to go with his 299 pims). He isn't the only one; the Flyers Steve Downie has slowly gotten more and more irrelevant as he learned the officials were out to get him (and with some cause, as he did this and this).

But what about Colton Orr? He carries around the goon label (and rightly so) but got the same penalty as Andrew Peters when Peters hit him from the bench. Orr stood up for himself when Peters reached out from the bench and instigated with a punch amd they both got 10 minute misconducts. That is just inconceivable!

There is a distinct difference between inconsistent officiating, and incompetent officiating. The former has been prevalent since we got out of the lockout, and the latter seems to be sticking its ugly head out more and more in recent months. Now I do not think this is purely the fault of the NHL's on-ice officials, it goes up the administration through director of officiating Stephen Walkom and even Colin Campbell to none other than your friend and mine, Gary Bettman.

In his role as owners' pet, Bettman has come out and publicly admonished excessive violence in the league. While he gives lip service to allowing fighting, its clear that he will eventually call for its banishment. Rather than come out and make the bold move of eliminating fisticuffs outright, he works behind the curtain. He sets the ball rolling to smash 'smaller' players like Hollweg, Carcillo and Orr while steering it clear of guys like Pronger. Pronger is marketable, so he is allowed to do whatever he wants. Hell, Cindy Crosby hooks and harasses players constantly, but since he is the poster boy, he has been given all of 37 pim in 49 games.

Bettman plays the part of Animal Farm's Napoleon and he maintains the same dictum that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell's book was an allegory of Soviet communism and the NHL's commissioner acts the underhanded pig. Unfortunately, just like the Soviets, his communist commune will fall but hopefully it won't take the entire sport down with him when it does.

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