Monday, May 11, 2009

Rap Around: Walker Escapes Suspension

Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

Welcome to the Rap Around, where we take a look at headlines around the league.

Boston was up 4-0 with around 3 minutes left in the 3rd last night, when defenseman Aaron Ward got into a shoving match with Matt Cullen in front of the Bruins net. The puck was along the boards about 20 feet away at the time. At the tail end of the altercation, as Cullen was falling to the ground, Carolina's Scott Walker intervened. He immediately ditched his gloves and stick, grabbed a hold of Ward (still wearing his gloves and holding his stick in his left hand) and unleashed a right cross that instantly crumpled Ward to the ground.

For his actions, Walker received an Instigator, a 5-minute Major for Fighting, a Game Misconduct and a $2500 fine, but his automatic suspension under Rule 47.22 was rescinded. Many anti-fighting stalwarts are pointing to the incident and subsequent lack of discipline as a downside of the NHL's love affair with fighting. Daniel, you and I have recently argued for the status quo of Fighting in the NHL. So, let me ask you: was this a sucker punch, should Walker have been suspended and is this proof of the danger posed to hockey players if fighting is not outlawed or controlled?

I don't think this is necessarily a reason to outlaw or control fighting more than it already is. This type of action is not uncommon and happens every year. Inevitably, someone is going to take too many liberties with a scorer, and an enforcer on the opposing team is going to step in. Was this a sucker punch? Yes. Was it unnecessary? Not at all. If someone is going to get rough with one of the skill players, which Cullen is as we both remember, then something needs to be done to send a message that it is not ok. If anything, this is more evidence about how effective the self-policing policy is.

There's no need to suspend a player for a play that is no different from what happens around the net, only he didn't have a glove on. Hockey players are tough, and one punch isn't going to take someone out. If there was an injury, then maybe a suspension discussion needs to take place. But Walker got a match penalty, the $2500 fine and I'm sure the refs and the Bruins are going to keep an eye on him. If anything, the media paying too much attention to minor incidents like this gives hockey its violent reputation. I'm not trying to deny that people get hurt playing this game, or even that fighting can lead to injuries. I'm simply arguing that the violence that does happen in hockey is a part of the game and part of its ability to separate itself from the other major sports in this North America. But, that doesn't mean that it is the only thing that makes hockey exciting. It's time for the media to stop defining hockey by the violence that happens. I bet if I checked to see how many career ending injuries happen in football compared to hockey, football would be the victor. It's time for us to stop getting bent out of shape every time a punch is thrown. Fighting is a defining characteristic of hockey, but it is not THE defining characteristic of hockey. Maybe if the media kept that in mind, we could talk about what actually makes hockey exciting, like great saves, odd man rushes and Ovechkin's crazy wrist shot, instead of the few fights that we enjoy as a tool of momentum.

I'm going to agree that it was a sucker punch, but disagree that a suspension wasn't warranted. I absolutely think Walker should have been suspended.

Yes, Ward was taking liberties with Cullen here, but there are a finite number of situations where you can start pummeling a guy who has his gloves on AND his stick in his hand. This was a normal shoving match. Ward didn't board Cullen, spear him, elbow him or draw blood of any kind. If Walker wants to get involved in that fray, then escalate things, but don't ramp them up to 11 without warning.

Some Ducks fans may disagree with me here, as I'm sure they think they've seen this before. Didn't Chris Kunitz beat the crap out of a fetal Zidlicky not too long ago, and didn't Travis Moen jump a number of players in his time in a Ducks sweater? With Zidlicky, he dropped his stick. Roughing can still be called when you drop your stick or feign dropping your stick to goad the other player into starting a fight. Referees watch for that, and even though Zidlicky covered up and didn't throw a punch, the referees determined he was accepting the challenge when he dropped his stick. And if you watch the video, Kunitz is just shoving until he sees the stick drop. Then he starts throwing uppercuts like Tommy Hearns. As for Moen, yeah, he jumped guys, but he never opened with a haymaker. You facewash a guy, you grab his jersey and talk to him: an amuse bouche of violence, if you will. You never open with the entree.

The problem with the way Fighting is perceived by the mainstream media is that everyone assumes it's like this, and that there are no rules. Everyone who doesn't watch hockey assumes that every fight is like the Todd Bertuzzi punch on Steve Moore. They don't realize that there's a code, and that things like the Todd Bertuzzi punch happen when teams aren't following the code. That leads to frustration and mindless attacks. And I think mindless attacks should be reserved as checks to counter other mindless attacks. If Ward spears Cullen, open season. But if they're just shoving each other, it behooves you to shove him a little more and find out what his intentions are with your forward.

Walker says he heard the appropriate words to believe he was involved in an altercation, but I don't buy that. It happened too fast in a league where players still slash a leg, talk it out and then circle each other like samurai. Walker needed to issue a formal challenge, or at least get a few shoves in there before he punched him. The NHL should've suspended him because no professional hockey player should be throwing a haymaker like that when the other player still has his gloves on and a firm grasp on his stick. It's dangerous for the game, and it's dangerous for Walker, who is probably looking at Retaliation City in this series. And another thing: how is this not message sending? Losing 4-0, a guy steps into a shoving match with a right cross? He's so eager to start a fight, he's going to take a shot at a guy, who didn't agree to drop the gloves, and that's not message sending?

No comments: