Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shooting The Messengers

Daniel, how's the playoff beard coming?

Stubbly. Scotty's putting me to shame.

That salt and pepper puts us ALL to shame. Alright. Down to business.

Before the playoffs began, the NHL held a conference call with its general managers to let them know that "message sending" when the "outcome [of a game] had been determined" would not be allowed.

The new policy would be tested in Game 1 between the Penguins and Flyers. Down 4-1 with seven seconds left in the 3rd, Philadelphia sent Daniel Carcillo to the faceoff circle. Instead of drawing the puck, he punched Maxim Talbot in the face with the butt of his stuck. Bettman called him to the principal's office the next morning and dealt him a one-game suspension. Coach Stevens received a $10K fine.

Two days later, the league clarified its policy by not punishing Mike Cammalleri after he laid a vicious elbow into Martin Havlat's concussion-ridden chin. The league used the familiar terms, "first-time incident" and "not a repeat offender" in describing its standard of discipline.

Daniel, is it realistic for the NHL to ask teams to give up the practice of message sending? What is the value of letting it continue? And as the Ducks have a few 'repeat offenders' known to dabble in this sort of intimidation, do you think the new standard of conduct will come into play in their series with the Sharks?

The NHL cannot stop message sending. The playoffs are all about mental positioning and momentum. If you can get in someone's head and have them doubt their ability to compete, why not do it? Moreover, why would a team not remind the team that just beat them that the next one won't come easily? Message sending keeps both teams on a complete mental tilt.

More importantly, message sending keeps the fans excited for the next game. We get excited and we like to think that even if we're down 3-0, our team isn't going to roll over and die. I agree that the players shouldn't be in danger, but keep in mind just how tough these guys are. Also, good enforcers can rough each other up and send messages without injuring someone. Message sending keeps the teams and the fans anxiously awaiting the next game.

Sadly, this is a threat in the Ducks-Sharks series. The Ducks wouldn't lie down for a nap, let alone another team. We're the baddest kids on the block, and we don't let anyone forget it. We will end up sending a message, and I only hope it's not Pronger. I always enjoyed our hard-nosed approach, but if the league is hunting people down for this, we might end up on the wrong end of it.

I always take issue with the NHL's attempts to corral and codify the unwritten rules of hockey. But it's not clear to me that this policy is even being enforced. The Boston/Montreal series was allowed to boil over until Lucic took a match penalty last night, and the Cammalleri incident implies that two people can elbow each other in the head all day as long as they're both goal scorers. I'm not saying Carcillo didn't deserve it, or that Coach Stevens didn't do EXACTLY what the league warned him not to do. But Lucic and Laraque had bad reputations before they caused a Game 1 fracas, and Cammalleri tried to injure a concussion-prone Havlat as surely as Carcillo tried to injure Talbot. Why no intervention there?

As far as the Ducks-Sharks series, it was quiet on Thursday. Too quiet. I wouldn't be surprised if tonight's game ended in a brawl similar to the April 5th melee at Ponda Center. Both teams will be looking to send the message that they intend to dominate when the series moves back to Anaheim. Of course, if the game's outcome has "been determined" when they send that message, and Pronger/Perry happens to be on the ice, I doubt the league will hesitate to slap us with a suspension.

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