— Sports

Column: The NHL embarrasses itself again as MMA On Ice

The National Hockey League is an embarrassment.

This is not a new development, but it’s worth revisiting. As long as the league condones the sort of mindless, reckless violence we’ve seen this week, it will never be more than MMA On Ice.

To contend the carnage that went on these past few days between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers is simply a part of the game is the sort of Neanderthal thinking that keeps hockey in the dark ages.

It is bloodlust, pure and simple, and not worth taking seriously.

Will this be the light-bulb moment when the NHL finally exorcises this wretched stain that holds back any chance of it becoming a preeminent sport?

Not a chance.

For some reason, the league thinks that one grown man grabbing another grown man by the hair and slamming him face-first to the ice is not even worthy of a single-game suspension.

In the natural order of the NHL, which leads to the next game transforming into Fight Club – except there’s nothing secretive about the silly, sorry little enterprise.

It’s proudly staged in a giant arena for the entire world.

The first rule of NHL Fight Club is to talk about it all you want.

There is no apparent shame in these disgraceful displays. Never has been. Just a shrug of the shoulders and the ridiculous contention that it’s simply hockey players being hockey players.

We have long been told that these guys need occasional bursts of mayhem – the sort of acts that would get them arrested in the real world – to blow off steam in their high-speed, hard-hitting endeavor.

What a crock.

Plenty of non-combat sports fit this mold, but the NHL only allows its players to punch each other in the nose occasionally, with nothing more than a brief foray to the penalty box awaiting them as punishment.

Instead of easing tensions, the NHL’s hands-off approach to fists flying and other assorted acts of brutality – hey, the players also carry sticks that double as effective weapons – leads inevitably to the sort of criminal behavior we’ve seen this week.

This latest black eye for the league was sparked by a familiar source: notorious Capitals goon Tom Wilson, who already has quite an impressive rap sheet for many illegal hits over the years.

In Monday night’s game against the Rangers, a scrum broke out at the side of the Capitals’ net after the whistle blew. Wilson wound up on top of Pavel Buchnevich and figured that would be an excellent time to show how tough he is, so he delivered a punch to the back of the Rangers player’s head.

Coming to the aid of his teammate, Artemi Panarin jumped on Wilson’s back. But the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Panarin was no match for the 6-4, 220-pound Wilson, who grabbed his opponent by the hair and slammed him face-first to the ice like a rag doll.

Now, it seemed apparent to everyone that Wilson was headed for another suspension, with some rightly arguing that he deserved to be suspended for the rest of the season – including the playoffs.

Especially when news broke that Panarin would miss the final three games of the Rangers‘ season with what was vaguely described as a lower-body injury. (Side note: In the NHL, they won’t be more specific about injuries other than telling which half of the body they occurred for fear an opponent will specifically target the ailing body part the next time that player is on the ice. Yes, this is a thing.)

Turns out, a suspension for Wilson was evident to everyone except the Capitals (their coach, Peter Laviolette, ludicrously described it as nothing more than “a physical play’) and the NHL‘s even more absurdly titled head of player safety, George Parros.

Parros doled out a $5,000 fine for the hit on Buchnevich – and didn’t even mention the mauling of Panarin.

That was it.

Incensed, the Rangers issued a scathing statement that charged the league with “a dereliction of duty” and blasted Parros, a former player, as “unfit to continue in his current role.”

There is no argument, yet the problem runs far more profound than this nasty incident and one harebrained suit in the league office. This is about a league that has taken tepid steps to rein in its unwritten code of cheap shots and unrestrained brawling – the kind that led to sick jokes such as “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out” – but has never been willing to break from barbarism as a supposed selling point fully.

Maybe they view all those “Best Hockey Brawls” videos on YouTube as a sign that this is what the fans want.

When the Capitals and the Rangers met again on Wednesday, with Wilson still allowed on the ice, one didn’t have to be Carnac the Magnificent to figure out what would happen next.

The Rangers were in the mood for some vigilante justice.

Three fights broke out at center ice after the puck was dropped. Before the game was a minute old, Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith got into it with Wilson. And, yes, two more fights erupted just past the four-minute mark. “I think it was good,” Smith said proudly. “We were just trying to stick up for our teammate. It was a good response, for sure.”

No, it wasn’t.

A much better response would be for the league to follow the path of the NBA, which cracked down mightily after the infamous 2004 “Malice at the Palace” melee spilled into the stands, involving both players and fans. One can’t help but wonder if all the criticism heaped upon a primarily black basketball league – up to and including the players being called “thugs” – had anything to do with race. Especially when a predominantly white hockey league has endured far more cringe-worthy episodes, including players climbing into the stands, it’s mainly dismissed as simply part of the game.

There’s no reason for that view to prevail any longer.

Hockey is a graceful, magnificent game when played the right way. The league where it should be played at the highest level must realize that the only way to grow the sport beyond its niche fan base is to weed out all the needless savagery. Until that changes – and we’re not holding our breath – the first rule of the NHL should be: Don’t talk about the NHL.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button