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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The NHL's Boston Problem by @ExcitedBobErrey

March 8, 2011 - Off a faceoff both Zdeno Chara and Max Pacioretty are racing towards the far boards for the puck. The puck gets hit up ice at the Bruins' blueline, Chara and Pacioretty race up the ice for it, and Chara slams Pacioretty's head off the stanchion at the red line as the puck is already past the Canadiens' blueline. Pacioretty got a step on Chara and Chara takes him out a good 4 strides after the puck is played. He doesn't just take him out with a hip check or his body but extends his arms out and drives him into the stanchion. Intentional or not, it was well behind the play and incredibly reckless.

Claude Julien on the hit:
"I think what people have to understand is Zdeno is not a dirty player. He certainly never meant for that to happen. I think if anything he tried to rub him out in the boards"

Maybe Chara meant for that to happen, and maybe he didn't, but regardless of the intent it was an incredibly reckless play on Chara's part and one where he needs to exhibit better control. He might not be a dirty player, and he might not have meant for that to happen, but he absolutely deserved a couple games off to reinforce that you can't play that out of control and extend through a player along the boards. The NHL, as had become a pattern at this point, completely dropped the ball.

November 12, 2011 - Milan Lucic forces a turnover in the Bruins defensive zone and starts skating down the ice on a break away. He loses control of the puck and Ryan Miller comes out of his net to clear it away. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, but it was Lucic charging Miller and extending his arms on the hit after he played the puck that caused an uproar.

He wasn't suspended on the play, with Shanahan deciding there was a lack of intent and no chance for Lucic to avoid contact on the play. Watch for yourself to see how plausible that actually sounds. From Claude Julien after it was announced that Lucic would somehow avoid any supplemental discipline for the hit:
"From our end of it we were convinced it wasn't deliberate. We were hoping that was the decision that was going to be taken and it was. I know for a fact that if Milan had intended on hitting him, he would have never got up. We all know how hard he hits and that speaks for itself."
Complete garbage from Julien on this. Lucic's intent is up for debate and only truly known by him alone, but to phrase it as he did and say Miller would have gotten hit much harder if Lucic wanted to is a complete joke. Once again, the NHL is faced with an incredibly reckless play where Lucic hits Miller after the puck is played and makes no attempt to follow up on the play and try scoring in the empty net.

December 7, 2013 - We've all seen what happen and have heard about it ad nauseam since Saturday. Brooks Orpik caught Loui Eriksson with a huge, but clean, check in open ice, knocking him out with a concussion. Shawn Thronton repeatedly went after Orpik, first drawing a penalty then later cowardly slew footing him from behind and throwing punches as he laid motionless on the ice. Seconds before that, James Neal deliberately kneed Brad Marchand in the head as he was laying on the ice.

With two disgusting acts happening back to back by both teams, it's only natural that this would draw the ire of both sides and lead to a lot of finger pointing in the aftermath. Of course, Claude Julien never misses a chance to give his opinion, and again he's left sounding less than intelligent:
"The one thing about this is that anybody who knows him personally knows he's a pretty honest player and pretty honest person, and if he said he really regretted and felt bad, he really did. I support his comment because I know he’s being truthful to that. Thorny did cross the line, and some others did too. You have to man up to those things, and I think he did. That’s more than we can say about players that pretend it wasn’t done on purpose. It’s pretty obvious when you look at it that he did cross the line, but others did too. But sometimes you have to man up to those things and I think he did"
The only thing even more amazing than the fact that Claude Julien actually admitted to wrongdoing by a Boston player is the way he proceeds to casually dismiss what happened. Thornton crossed the line, but he's not like that, and if he feels bad that's ok, because basically things like that happen and the other team did things too, but Julien is proud of him for saying what he did. Is there any wonder that there's a clear culture problem with the Bruins that starts at the ownership, extends down through the management and coaching staff, is embodied by the players, and loved by their fans? This is arguably the worst on-ice incident since Todd Bertuzzi jumped Steve Moore from behind and slammed his head into the ice, and that's the tone and the rhetoric Julien takes to talk about it.

Not to condone what James Neal did, because it was reprehensible in its own right, but there's a clear difference between what he did and what Thornton did, or what Thornton did compared to any other boarding, high hit to the head, etc that the NHL deems worthy of supplemental discipline. In the flow of a game, as a player is reacting to what's happening and making quick decisions, they'll come across the opponent in a vulnerable position. Unfortunately, you'll also have players who are frustrated or have a score to settle against that opponent. They need to stay calm and level headed regardless and make the right play, but there's always going to be emotion in hockey and as long as you have players in a position where they're reacting instead of thinking about what they're doing, you're going to have cheap shots. They deserve the punishment they get when they lose their cool on the ice like that, but no length of suspension or crackdown on supplemental discipline will ever completely eliminate those types of plays from the game.

The difference with what Thornton did is that it wasn't in the middle of gameplay. He wasn't standing next to Brooks Orpik, and he didn't just react to finding Orpik in a vulnerable position and try to exact revenge. No, Shawn Thornton needed to come flying down the rink after the whistle to make Orpik pay. This wasn't a reaction, it was a premeditated determination to get Orpik back for knocking Eriksson out of the game. Thornton had plenty of time to think about what he was going to do before he did it, and the result was Brooks Orpik being taken off the ice on a stretcher. It was assault, it was criminal, and it deserves to be dealt with harshly. Shawn Thornton easily earned himself a long suspension, and 20+ games is a very fitting punishment reflecting the severity of his actions and what other acts of assault have earned in the past.

The problem is, the Bruins haven't seemed to play by the same set of rules as the rest of the league. The perception that Boston gets away with much more due to preferential treatment existed before the incidents mention at the beginning of this post, and it surely hasn't subsided since after the lack of action by the NHL. Colin Campbell, the father of Bruins forward Gregory Campbell, headed up the league's supplemental discipline until Brendan Shanahan took over after the 2011 season. The apparent nepotism while Campbell served as the Director of Player Safety helped create the perception of favoritism for Boston, but compounding the problem is that Campbell, and later Shanahan, report to the NHL Board of Governors, who happen to have as chairman none other than Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs himself. And Jeremy Jacobs isn't very accommodating to people who don't do exactly what he wants them to do.

The NHL has a very clear culture problem in Boston that is well rooted at this point from continuously skirting discipline for questionable on ice incidents. They also have a recent incident with Shawn Thornton that leaves a black eye on the game that not many on-ice incidents have topped. It seems obvious that Shanahan needs to deliver a harsh suspension that makes clear that what Thornton did, and the environment that condones that type of behavior, is abhorrent and needs to change. Unfortunately, it's less clear that the NHL realizes this and has learned from their past mistakes of continually letting the Bruins off the hook.

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