What if Drew Doughty had not returned?
What if the prized Los Angeles Kings defenceman had been carted off the ice on a stretcher on Friday night a la Max Pacioretty instead of making his own way to the dressing room?
Would the outrage have been much louder?
Would the outcry have painted Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger as the same type of villain as Zdeno Chara, who some outraged observers want to give the tar-and-feather treatment after his hit on Pacioretty 72 hours earlier put the unfortunate Montreal Canadiens forward in the hospital?
Would a police investigation in Columbus have ensued?
Talk about a tale of two incidents.
With the entire hockey world buzzing about the Chara-Pacioretty affair in Montreal on Tuesday, an eerily similar situation took place at Nationwide Arena on Friday night when Umberger, who Columbus broadcasters described as “finishing his check,” shoved Doughty into the abutment at the end of the Blue Jackets bench.
With Doughty’s face mushed into the divider glass, the injuries he could have sustained might have been worse. Much worse.
Instead, Doughty was patched up and came back to finish the game, a gash on his face serving as a reminder of just how lucky he was.
“I’m fine ... I just got it right on the nose again. There was a little bit of blood, but nothing drastic,” Doughty said. “I didn’t see the turnbuckle there. I kind of had my head down, making the play, and I ran right into it. But I’m fine, and he obviously didn’t mean to do it.”
If you listen to the Chara-bashers who claim the hulking defenceman knew all along where the divider was when he rammed Pacioretty into it, then how were Umberger’s intentions any different? Surely he must have seen replays of the Pacioretty-Chara affair. Yet, it happened again.
But somehow, through it all, Doughty did not blame Umberger.
In the process, he unknowingly sent a message here. Yes, it was a dangerous play. Yes, it once again underscored the dangers of headshots. And yes, the need to examine NHL arenas in an effort to make them safter should be paramount.
At the same time, Doughty’s ability to strip Umberger of any blame shows that the kid understands there are risks a player takes each time he steps out on the ice.
Should the NHL do its best to limit these risks? Of course. No one wants to see a player end up like Pacioretty, whose health remains the No. 1 issue.
At the same time, the witch hunt being conducted on Chara has been a bit, well, over the top.
Having the police investigate the Chara-Pacioretty incident, for one, is a bit of a head scratcher. It could be argued that Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke does worse things on the ice on many of his shifts.
Besides, is this not the same province where the so-called “goon league” once flourished?
This was not Todd Bertuzzi on Steve Moore. Or Marty McSorley on Donald Brashear. Far from it.
As for the issue of “violence in the game,” this topic is certainly no laughing matter.
What is worthy of a chuckle, however, is the suggestion in some circles that the sport has digressed into the chaotic, head-hunting era of the 1970s.
To those who think that, please get a grip. When was the last time you saw a 1970s-type bench-clearing brawl? Or, two players waving their sticks in each other’s faces and having a fencing match like the Maple Leafs’ Tiger Williams and the Kings’ Dave Hutchison did one night in Los Angeles almost four decades ago in a scene that looked like it came out of the movie Slap Shot?
Or, for that matter, players climb into the stands among the fans as a trio of Philadelphia Flyers did at Maple Leaf Gardens during a famous playoff series in the mid-70s?
Now that is something that warranted a police investigation, not the Chara-Pacioretty affair.
Heading into the GMs meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday, the league definitely needs to address these issues. Headshots remain the No. 1 concern, while limiting the dangers at rinks such as those dividers must be a priority as well.
At the same time, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was right on the mark Saturday when he cautioned the league against making knee-jerk reactions whenever a highly publicized injury or incident takes place. Instead, the best path is to make logical changes, not emotional ones.
Hockey is a physical sport, moreso now that bigger faster players no longer have to worry about being obstructed by opponents as was the case in the past. The impact and collisions, therefore, are much more dangerous.
At the same time, a couple of key points come to mind.
First off, the more these injuries occur, the more an old school guy like Don Cherry is accused of being “a dinosaur.” Yet, no one has been more on the mark than Cherry when it comes to the ridiculous equipment players now wear, equipment like elbow pads that can be used as weapons and can put a man in the hospital.
It’s about time changes come on that front.
Secondly, it would be nice to see the NHLPA, instead of just issuing statements on incidents like Chara-Pacioretty, hold a public press conference with its top brass to address the perceived lack of respect its members seem to have at times. It’s a topic that just won’t go away. Nor should it.
In the end, Doughty was fortunate. Pacioretty wasn’t. Our best wishes and hopes for his speedy recovery.
But all these insinuations that the sport has turned into a violent wild west on blades, one that is going down the toilet?
If you want to see that, throw on a tape of the 1970s Broad St. Bullies. You’ll see just how different things were.