There was a tremendous amount of media coverage of the Weber-Zetterberg incident and fan comments and tweets were pretty much consistent. Weber was going to be suspended. Slow-motion replays made it clear that this was a serious offense. And then Shanahan gave Weber the equivalent of a stern talking-to. It was obvious that the league did not want to decide the outcome of a playoff series by suspending one of Nashville’s top defenceman. Failed logic in my opinion because Weber's senseless action would have been responsible for putting his team at a disadvantage. Nevertheless the small fine was seen as a joke and everyone expected that someone on the Detroit roster would exact revenge. If the league won’t take head shots seriously then the players have to send a message about respect.
So Bertuzzi goes after Weber in the opening moments of the next game, becoming the first fight of the NHL 2012 playoffs. Understandable right? Revenge and retribution is part of hockey right? The rest of the teams involved in the playoffs also got the message. Play as hard as you want and the limits have just been stretched well beyond the rule book. The NHL won’t take any action as they don’t want to influence the playoff results.
Last night the decisions of the league resulted in a night of violence.
- Carl Hagelin drives his elbow into the side of Daniel Alfredsson’s head, knocking him out of the game.
- Brent Burns threw an elbow off the back of the head of Scott Nichol.
- Alexander Ovechkin cross-checks Dennis Seidenberg in the face, an infraction that wasn’t even penalized. The refs totally missed it but the Toronto Star devoted almost half a page to a photo of the hit, complete with Bruins fans in the background looking on in horror.
- Andy MacDonald, who lost over 50 games to a concussion earlier in the year, had his helmet cracked by a head shot from T.J. Galiardi.
- As the Blues’ 3-0 shutout wound to a close, San Jose decided to send a message for the next match by ending the game in a brawl.
- In Glendale, Andrew Shaw attempted to take off the head of goalie Mike Smith with his shoulder.
The NHL just recently announced that attendance and viewership (TV and online) are up and at all-time highs. The League is in the first year of a new 10-year contract with NBC that includes national distribution of all Stanley Cup Playoffs games, including exclusive coverage starting with the League conference semifinals. Playoff hockey will be seen by current fans in every major market and, more importantly, millions of potential new fans will be exposed to the sport. And last night they showcased the worst that the sport has to offer.
I have to believe that the NHL is concerned about who they are attracting to the sport. The league, and the NHLPA who also share responsibility, have never come out and stated that they are promoting violence and fighting in order to sell tickets. If that is the plan, and they are afraid to publically confirm that fact, then they know it’s wrong. So if it’s wrong, show some leadership and get serious about protecting their image. Clean up the game and start attracting fans who want to watch hockey. By doing nothing they are building a fan base that thinks fighting is the best part of the game.