Murphy’s Hockey Law: Still No Consistency With Hits To The Head
In the final minute of the first period of the Bruins’ season opening 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Thursday, Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov caught Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron with a hit to the head. The elbow/forearm to Bergeron’s head was exactly the type of hit the NHL claims to be doing their best to rid the game of as they showed when they hammered Sharks forward Raffi Torres — a repeat offender with such hits — with a 41-game suspension for a similar shot to the head of Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg. Thankfully, neither Bergeron nor Silfverberg were injured but Burmistrov surprisingly was only given a warning by the NHL Department Of Player Safety.
Regardless of who the player is committing the act or even the result of the act, how can you justify suspending a player for the same act only three days earlier and then nothing for the Burmistrov hit? Obviously, the Russian forward didn’t deserve the hefty suspension Torres received, but the lack of any punishment was just another example of the lingering inconsistency when it comes to how hits to the head are dealt with by the NHL Department Of Player Safety. It’s clearly understood that if you have a prior history of targeting the head and also have been punished for it, then you can expect a guaranteed suspension and likely a long one. However, these careless and disrespectful acts on the ice will never stop until every shot to the head that’s deemed an illegal hit to the head penalty on the ice results in an automatic fine and the a suspension for each time that player gets called for the same penalty again.
The thought here is that the first time in a season a player is called for an illegal hit to the head in a game, that player is fined. Then for the remainder of that season, anytime that player receives the same penalty on the ice, he gets a minimum one-game suspension and the number of games can go up depending on the magnitude and result of the hit. The problem now is that suspensions, not just the number of games a player is suspended, are determined mainly by result. Furthermore, the actions of the team whose teammate was hit in the head seem to be determined by result as well. Following the the Burmistrov hit Thursday, Bergeron was able to get up and go after Burmistrov himself and there was a bit of a scuffle but that’s it. Following the game and in the days after, the Bruins were criticized by media and fans a like for what they perceived to be a lack of response to their alternate captain — who has a history of concussions — taking an unsuspecting head shot. The Bruins didn’t take too kindly to the criticism.
“There’s always criticism when something like that happens,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said Saturday. “I can guarantee you if Bergeron stays down from that hit, there’s a pile on that guy, okay? So our team will stick together. Which they also did when Bergeron got hit. They got in there. But Bergeron was good enough to get there himself and start dealing with it before the referees came in. So that response was good. And then you say, “Okay, he’s fine.” Then the League has to look into it and you’re hoping that the League will make the right decisions, they made a decision- we move on. But if anybody wants to criticize the lack of response it’s a load of crap because our guys did respond.”
Bruins forward and new resident tough guy in the dressing room had a similar response and made some valid points.
“What can we do there? What can I do there?” Rinaldo asked Friday. “I mean a guy like me, they’re (the referees) just waiting for me. So really what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to go beat up a little guy who doesn’t fight and won’t fight back? I asked him to fight and he no surprise said no. We got in his ear and gave him some extra bumps and he apologized. He wanted no part of us and knew what he did. But really there’s not much you can do except take a number, remember him and if an opportunity arises later in the season, get him back but within the rules. But we didn’t need to do that much there because ‘Bergy’ [Bergeron] didn’t flop around and stay down. He got up like a man and got some shots in himself.”
Rinaldo and even Julien are absolutely right. It’s unfair to criticize a team in that situation the Bruins found themselves in Thursday. Sure a full out brawl or payback of some sort might bring a team together and the Bruins want their leaders to know they’ve got their backs, but in today’s NHL that’s a lot more difficult to do. Cowardly acts like Burmistrov’s can easily go unpunished. As Julien pointed out, if Bergeron had been unable to get up and was seriously injured there surely would’ve been a response. But there in lies the major issue here. Results dictate the actions on the ice from players and off it with supplemental discipline.
There’s a good chance Burmistrov — who is known as a pest that crosses the line more often than not — will lay a similar hit on another player because he realizes as long as the player gets up he won’t face serious retribution on and off the ice. Of course, the Bruins could’ve easily just decided to return the favor to him or even one of the Jets’ star players and then there likely would be suspensions handed down. But wouldn’t it be better to have more consistency with supplemental discipline to prevent such chaos?
Until that consistency with illegal hits to the head arrives there are going to be more players like Marc Savard having their careers ended prematurely and ugly retaliations like Shawn Thornton on Brooks Orpik. The presence of the instigating penalty and the ever-growing phasing out of fighting prevents players from policing the game, so it is up to the NHL rules committee and NHL Department Of Player Safety to do so once and for all.
Bruins Don’t Want To Learn The Hard Way Like Kings Did
On Friday the Kings and forward Mike Richards reached an agreement on a grievance filed by Richards following the termination of his contract in June that came after Richards was arrested at the Canadian border. Richards was arrested at a Canadian border entry stop on June 17 and later charged with possession of the controlled substance, Oxycodone, after a two-month investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Kings cited ”material breach of the requirements of a standard player contract” as the reason for terminating his contract. But as it has since been divulged, this was the last straw in a string of incidents with Richards and the Kings and General Manager Dean Lombardi had reached his threshold of understanding and patience.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” told the LA Times Friday in a written statement. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now-and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.
“Anyone close enough to me knows how much I loved Mike Richards. I believed that when I had acquired him, I had found my own Derek Jeter.”
Lombardi went on to explain even more how betrayed and stunned he is in what was brutal honesty to say the least. Of course Lombardi and the Kings also dealt with two other major off-ice issues over the last year as Kings defenseman Slava Voynov pleaded no-contest to a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge and former Kings forward Jarret Stoll was charged with felony possession of cocaine and the drug MDMA (Ecstasy). Lombardi decided something had to be done to correct the path his team was on and hired former NHLer and recovering addict Brant Myhres as the team’s player assistance director. In that position Myhres serves as a confidant and guidance director of sorts for players to confide in if they’re battling off-ice issues. Lombardi an Myhres made it clear to the players that what they divulge to Myhres will remain private unless the player says otherwise.
According to Bruins President Cam Neely, the Bruins have a similar situation in place and do their best to prevent anything similar to what has gone on with the Kings. But as Neely pointed out, the league and NHLPA also offer options for players too.
“It’s not just individual teams, the league talks about it as a whole; the PA talks about it and it’s something we’re certainly aware of,” Neely said recently. “Our players know our expectations not just on the ice but off the ice. It’s important to educate them as best as possible and let them know that there’s people they can call and it’s not necessarily going to bubble up to Done Sweeney or myself that they need help in certain areas. We are aware of that and we want to make sure our players know there’s help for them if needed. But again, it’s not just a team thing, it’s a PA and league thing too.”
Neely joked that as a player he never partook in any libations or fun away from the rink but all kidding a side, acknowledged that if a player wants to have a good time, today’s player has it much tougher than when he was playing.
“The way that social media is now, there’s so much out there instantaneously with people taking photos and tweets,” Neely pointed out. “So I think that there’s more awareness of what happens off the ice, off the field or off the court then maybe back in the day. But the other thing too is you talk about character of players and it’s important to have the right character of players that know right from wrong and that if they are starting to slip, they can reach out for help.”
“It’s about making smart choices,” Neely added. “Everybody’s made choices in their life when they were young that they’d probably like to take back. It happens. But it’s making sure you don’t make that choice over and over again. It’s more of an education and us saying ‘Hey listen, I get it; we get it; and we understand it, but just be smarter.”
Milan Lucic still doesn’t get it. At what point does Lucic channel his emotions correctly and be the effective beast he can be?
NHL says Kings were not circumventing the cap when they terminated Richards’ contract.
Coach’s Corner is back!
Great to see Massachusetts native and 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel get his first goal in his first NHL game. What was also great was the Sabres crank out their new goal song! It just may be the best in the NHL now!
Hope to see you all at Frosted Fall November 13!
This week for Puck Rocks we feature Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. Rask told Murphy’s Hockey Law that he is a fan of all music but focuses mainly on hard rock, Finnish hardcore and country. When asked who his favorite band is, Rask immediately said Metallica. So Tuukka this one is for you!