It seems every time there’s another elbow to the head, cross-check to the jugular or bare-knuckle fight, some neanderthal says something like, “That’s playoff hockey.”
A chorus of beer-soaked, male voices in the background yell “Amen” and we all march back to the arena to witness the next act of brutality (feel free to insert accusations of being just another candy-assed member of the liberal sports media, here).
Whatever progress the NHL had made in protecting players from unnecessary cheap shots this season has been pulverized in the first week of the playoffs.
Sheriff Shanahan has become Blind Brendan, turning his eyes from attacks that have nothing to do with hockey, at least if they’re carried out by a Norris Trophy candidate.
Nashville defenceman Shea Weber’s turnbuckle move with the head of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg in Game 1 of the Predators-Red Wings series drew the equivalent of a $15 fine for the average Canadian, and with that the floodgates opened and a foul bile poured onto ice surfaces around the league.
Every series has taken on a nasty tone, head shots, blind-side hits and line brawls as common as goals.
That’s playoff hockey?
Actually, it’s not.
Fighting is usually down in the post-season, has been for years, but you never heard anyone complaining because the action was fast and furious.
Just like fighting is almost nonexistent at the Olympics and World Juniors, and everybody remains riveted to their flat screens.
TV ratings are through the roof, you say? Of course they are. They’d be even higher for a public hanging.
Does that mean we should have one?
By allowing the violence to escalate, the NHL is fashioning its own noose, inserting the game’s head and leading it onto the trap door, where inevitably the catch will someday fail and we’ll have a real tragedy on our hands.
How a league can claim to be addressing concussions and long-term player safety by banning hits to the head while allowing fists to the same area is bad enough.
That it’s now backtracking on the former might be its most shameful hour.
Some key figures in the game are, thankfully, speaking out.
Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews, whose own concussions have already cost him plenty of playing time, weighed in on the Weber precedent in the Chicago Tribune.
“More than anything you should make an example of it, regardless of whether he’s a star player,” the Blackhawks captain said. “They have been trying to make an example of things like that so they don’t happen again and all of a sudden you let one slide like that. Everyone must feel like they’re back to square one. So it is frustrating.”
Sadly, for every Toews there are dozens who haven’t caught a glimpse of their own mortality, who want a Stanley Cup, damn the cost.
As players have always done, they’ll push as far and hard as the managers of the game allow.
It’s sunk to this: you can now take a fist to a defenceless man’s face, continue to pummel him after he goes down, and miss just one game.
And in the background the amen chorus continues, led by the colourful Coach in his corner, showing footage of playoff brawls from the 1970s, and saying it’s always been this way.
Three decades wasted, indeed.