This train is never late. The NHL had a good night last night. The playoffs kicked off, and it’s hard to find a bad matchup anywhere (though Flames-Stars and Avs-Predators should be nothing more than ritual killings). And though there were only two competitive games of the four last night (the Canes didn’t pull away until late), the goal-heavy trends of the last part of the regular season carried over, as no game featured less than four goals. The Leafs plastering the Lightning was a better story, even if the game was a laugher. There were great highlights like Connor McDavid just lacing through the Kings to score to alleviate his boredom or Teuvo Teravainen’s snipe to give the Canes some breathing room or Jonathan Quick keeping the Kings alive in the second period when the Oilers were really pushing (you might not put Teravainen’s goal in the same category but Teuvo going for an oil change is a highlight worthy of mention and he’s my sweet baby boy and fuck you!).
But the dark passenger of the playoffs that’s never too far from the surface is that playoff time causes players to become utterly unhinged. And yet there doesn’t seem to be anyone who wants to rein this in to keep the focus on the highlights and the current high level of competition. The NHL Department of Player Safety whiffs more than the most launch-angle obsessed slugger, and it actively sours the game. Probably a natural cause and effect when it’s run by a former goon, George Parros, who would die of exhaustion if parachuted into today’s game within five minutes.
The latest player to get off scot-free from what is basically a heinous act is Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon. Tell me, during what part of hockey camp do they teach kids this?
This isn’t a hockey game. It has nothing to do with hockey. It’s just a pissed off player boiling over because his team got its ass kicked eight ways to Sunday and attacking a player (not even looking at him) at a part of the body that’s not protected. What if Pavel Buchnevich’s ankle bends another way? This couldn’t be a more naked attempt to injure a player. We accept hockey is a physical game, and it should be, but attempts to maim that are nothing but attempts to maim shouldn’t be welcome or accepted at all.
Spurgeon’s penalty? $5,000 fine. Jared Spurgeon’s salary? $7.5 million this year. That’s 0.06 percent of his pay from him. To you and me that’s anywhere from $30 to $60 bucks. Sure, you might be annoyed by losing that, but it’s not exactly gonna change your behavior. You wouldn’t have to explain that discrepancy to your partner when doing the financials, let’s say.
Surely Spurgeon’s status as an important player for the Wild, their captain even, played into this. Because generally the Dept. of Player Safety demurs from punishing someone a team might miss, while shrouding it in previous offenses and reputation. But really, who gives a shit? How do you expect to set precedent and try and change the game for the better when you’re only willing to punish the blatantly obvious and the non-essential?
Only partially relievingly, it appears that Toronto’s Kyle Clifford (who’s been an ox going on a decade now) is going to get a suspension for this blindside cheapshot/Keith Lee Impression on Tampa’s Ross Colton:
Again, this has nothing to do with hockey, or being tough, or trying to win a game. This is just an ogre doing what ogres do and taking advantage of an opponent not looking at him because he’s, y’know, following the play. Still, one probably shouldn’t hold their breath for Clifford to get a suspension that would raise eyebrows.
The playoffs should be a theater for the best of hockey, and especially the speed these games are played at now only heightens the already coke-binge levels of tension it brings. But as long as the NHL has to drag around the Dept. of Player Safety like a stone of shame instead of forcing it to lead, the playoffs will continue to be a theater for all of hockey, with its stupid and unnecessary component front and center .