The NHL is breeding the culture that makes head shots and slashes acceptable

You will all have seen the hit from Matt Niskanen that took Sidney Crosby out of last night’s game three between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.

I’ve seen arguments ranging from it was a premeditated assault to a reactionary play to an unfortunate accident to “Crosby had it coming.” Just think how ridiculous that sounds.

Anyway, the problem isn’t the play – we’re well aware it isn’t a good play – it’s the reaction that it may or may not receive from the league.

Check it out for yourself.

There’s a few factors in play here. Firstly, Niskanen definitely means to cross-check him. He knows who Crosby is, and he’s heading to the crease. The culture of “hit everything near your goalie” has bred that idea.

I don’t think he means to hit his head, though. Crosby’s slump just prior to the hit means his head is at cross-check level. What causes that? A wild slash from Alex Ovechkin.

The slash initially hits his arm, and the strength and speed of the slash means it rebounds onto Crosby’s head. That causes him to lose his bearings, his legs turn to jelly, and he falls into the Niskanen cross-check.

That’s not excusing the cross-check. It’s stupid and unnecessary and reckless and it should be punished. But if it is, expect plenty to be up in arms about the protection of the golden boy.

Crosby’s brain would be a superb test subject for the effect of concussions, by the way.

Stick work like Ovechkin’s has come into prominence in recent weeks, mostly through the actions of Crosby himself. Remember this?

Crosby slashed Marc Methot’s finger open! It was ridiculous for Crosby not to receive any punishment for this play, and leads to the sort of “he had it coming” statements I saw on Twitter last night.

It shouldn’t be okay, but the NHL has made it so. That’s why Crosby can get away with taking the end of someone’s finger off, and why Ovechkin will likely receive nothing for slashing so wildly he knocked the back of Crosby’s head.

How do I know the league think stick work is okay? The amount of slashes that go unpunished.

Now, excuse the overly dramatic music and the melodramatic title, but here’s a game earlier in the season, when Johnny Gaudreau had a finger broken by the Minnesota Wild.

Twenty-one slashes to one person’s hand. None of which were called a penalty.

If slashes aren’t to be deemed as penalties, then fine, make it that way, and start an open season. Or, alternatively, follow your own damn rule book and punish them properly.

If they’re punished properly, they become less common, and so it’s less likely that Gaudreau gets his finger broken, or Methot’s finger gets split open, or Crosby gets hit in the back of the head.

It doesn’t stop there, though.

Remember when Brad Marchand got a two-game ban for spearing?

Disgusting play, absolutely worthy of the ban. So, tell me why this play from Leon Draisaitl didn’t get the same:

I know, I know. Leon Draisaitl isn’t Brad Marchand. He’s not a dirty player. He doesn’t do the things Marchand does.

Oh.

If you don’t like that argument, how about Matt Calvert only getting a one-game ban for this:

A one-game ban for a cross-check to the upper back/neck area, and the follow-up shoulder to the head. One game. That’s all someone’s potential futureĀ career and health is worth to the NHL.

Or Zack Kassian’s headshot in round one:

A charge to the head. Completely uncalled, nothing retrospective added. This hit is fair game in the NHL today. How’s the concussion lawsuit going?

Here’s the thing. People think Crosby get specialist treatment from the league because of his superstar status. The same is true of Connor McDavid. And, maybe they get a bit of a slide sometimes where other, less marquee players, get punished. But it clearly isn’t just their play that gets ignored.

The more the league refuses to punish players according to their own laws, the more that slashing someone’s finger open, or breaking a hand, or cutting them down into a headshot becomes an acceptable part of the game.

The more you open the game up to this sort of play, the more this sort of thing is going to happen.

And do you know what’ll happen to those “superstars” you think the NHL protects for it’s brand? They won’t be around for much longer.

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