Last week, I asked Mike Keane, a guy who has been around a hockey rink or two, what he thought of the "pansification" of the game.
"Pansification? What's that?"
Chuck the dictionary and type the word into a Google search.
What you'll find is what I told the 41-year-old Manitoba Moose captain. The term was coined by former NHL GM Mike Milbury on Hockey Night in Canada a few weeks ago -- a counter-punch to how the hockey world was reacting to comments made by Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, who's had four players receive various hits (some legal, some not) to the head in his time in Raleigh.
Milbury fears hockey is losing some of the elements (read: toughness) that made the game great.
The latest Hurricane to go down was Brandon Sutter, who was knocked senseless from a hit by New York Islanders forward Doug Weight last month. The check was textbook -- an open-ice job where he separated the player from the puck with the shoulder; his skates on the ice, elbows to the side with hands and stick away from the point of impact.
Clean as a whistle.
So what's the problem?
Keane wondered that, too.
"I feel bad for players who get hurt," the three-time Stanley Cup champ said. "Obviously no one wants to see anyone go down and get knocked out, but I think, and I agree with (TSN analyst) John Tortorella, when he says that it's up to the players to be accountable for the situation they put themselves in."
Let's be perfectly clear: We're not talking about hits from behind, a charge, an elbow smash off the top of the net, or any other cheap shot blow deemed illegal which causes an injury. There's simply no place in any sport for venturing outside the rule book or past the simple definitions of common sense and mutual respect.
This isn't a Tom Kostopoulos-Mike Van Ryn situation. Kostopoulos was suspended three games by the NHL yesterday for a hit from behind on Van Ryn Saturday.
No, this is about a CLEAN check that happened to catch the head of a player who put himself in a exploitable position. Sutter gambled his own safety during the play and lost, earning a concussion for his wager and sending people into a predictable frenzy, demanding for a rulebook re-write yet again.
"A lot of times, people point to the rules and assume players are going to abide by those rules. That if I'm vulnerable, no one is going to hit me," said Keane, believing a lot of hockey's problems would be solved by ditching the instigator rule so that player's actions are subjected to an on-ice review board. "But that's just not the case. Hockey is a fast game, and sometimes you're going to get hit when you put yourself in a bad spot."
That's what bothers Keane about this topic. Some players are more worried with the rulebook than they are about protecting themselves.
Hey, you want to make a high-risk play and open yourself up for a body check, go right ahead. Just know that you might take a shoulder to the chin if you try it. Thinking about turning your back on the play when you know someone is bearing down on you?
That makes even less sense to Keane.
He scoffed when it was suggested both players involved in a collision have 50-50 culpability on the play.
"It's more like 75-25, that it's the players responsibility to not put themselves in a vulnerable spot," he answered. "A lot of players think they're untouchable when they do that given the way the game has changed. Unfortunately, it's been a rude awakening for them and a real tough lesson learned."