The Stanley Cup playoffs bring out the best and worst in professional hockey. The quest for the Cup and the bragging rights that go along with it intensify the game and bring it to a higher level each year after the regular season. There have been some really exciting games and, as a fan, former player and coach of the game, it is a thrill to watch, most of the time.
But I also wonder why we have to wait until the conclusion of an 80-game season before we get to see the good stuff? I think something is wrong here.
And then there is the bad stuff, and plenty of it.
NHL Commisssioner Gary Betman was reported today to say how pleased he is that the average number of hits in a playoff game has risen to 68 from 45 during the regular season. He says "legal hits." The leagues fascination with "hits" is in sharp contrast to the widespread concern regarding the increase in concussions suffered by players. In fact, over 1600 player games were lost this past season to concussion injuries and only 145 player game suspensions were handed out as a result of the "hits."
What about the illegal hits that are never called, or hits he deems legal that be illegal? The whole situation is a mess. When USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are trying to outlaw fighting in junior hockey, the NHL is promoting hits and fights. Sure, they are penalizing a few of the most egregious, like hair pulling and attacking a player from behind while he is engaged in a fight with another player, but not enough control is exerted by the officials who often turn a blind eye to the action on the ice.
What is god's name is going on?
Is winning a trophy so important that we excuse this behavior? At the end of the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game last night, one of the Philly players, after time expired, smashed his $200 stick into pieces and threw the shaft across the rink.
Wow, what a "sport."