Thursday, April 19, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Let’s Have A Little Love for Brendan Shanahan
So far, I'd give him an A++
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we unveiled our startlingly accurate first round playoff predictions: professional gamblers, take note. This week, rather than write the team obituaries for the Pittsburgh Penguins and/or the Vancouver Canucks (thanks for picking last night to revert back to a 40-42 team that can't buy a defensive clear, L.A. Kings!), we're going to delve deep into the sordid world of "player safety" and "suspensions."
Some people seem to have a problem with the allegedly-inconsistent nature of the suspensions handed down by Safety Czar Brendan Shanahan. No punishment for Weber? One game for Neal? Three games for a couple of no-name rookies?
Really, put your manufactured outrage aside for a split second: these decisions all make perfect sense.
Hockey has always had its "detractors" in the media, many of whom are nationally-syndicated columnists who supposedly are experts at/occasionally enjoy the sport, but who, if we're really being honest here, are sportswriters because they're not good enough to be real journalists (ten bucks says a certain Bamian Box has an unfinished novel on his hard drive about a mystery-solving reporter who's up to his elbows in buxom blonde dames).
That much is obvious. But let's see what these long-suffering hockey "fans" are saying about Shanahan:
Argument A: Hockey Is Turning Into A Sport Of Goons - "There has never been less respect by players for the safety of other players in the history of the sport. Cheap shots and illegal hits are ruining hockey, driving away fans in droves who are turned off by one-note thugs."
My Response - (checks ratings)... Nope! Next.
Argument B: Fans Love To See Skill In The Playoffs - "The skill and talent of the NHL is second to none in the sports world, but when skill players are marginalized by the rough stuff in the playoffs, everyone suffers. Skill is marketable; goonery is not."
My Response: This is partially true: skilled players are more marketable, even in the playoffs. But when was the last time you heard anyone, anywhere, ever say "Player X won the Cup because of his tremendous deking skills." Or "Player Y was a true postseason warrior, I truly respect the way he amassed all those secondary assists on the powerplay." Or even "Player Z's skating ability is what won him so many games in the playoffs."
Wait--what's that? You hear hockey fans say those things all the time? Oh, nevermind then.
Argument C: Shanahan Is Sending The Wrong Message With His Inconsistent Discipline - "Not penalizing Shea Weber set the tone for a brutal postseason. Giving Carkner just one game while Hagelin three, just based on injury, makes no logical sense. And hitting James Neal with just one game for his two obviously-intentional head shots on the same shift just says that Shanahan doesn't have the balls to suspend elite players."
My Response: At what point in what playoffs in hockey history have "star" players ever been suspended for more than a single game? Offhand, I can't think of one. Derien Hatcher missed an entire first round in 1999 for breaking Jeremy Roenick's jaw, but he can't really be considered a "star" player, and besides, the hit in question occurred in the regular season.
While the "stars" are marginalized on the ice during the playoffs, they are definitely not during the commercials. Aaron Asham can safely be suspended for a long time, because he brings next to nothing on or off the ice. James Neal, on the other hand, is a 40-goal scorer for the league's loudest (whiniest) fanbase. Malkin delivers cheap shots all the time, and all the time, and he gets away with it. The people with financial clout will, and always have had, the justice system on their side. Hockey doesn't exist in some Untarnished Vaccuum of Nobility and Honor. It's not a "double standard": it is the only standard. "OMG, life isn't fair!!" Get over it.
Hockey, like football, is a gladiatorial bloodsport. The NHL, unlike the recent NFL, is not hiding behind some grandiose facade and pretending that they're something they're not. Hockey has huge hits, tons of fights, cheap shots, and ugly goals, and all that gets multiplied a hundred-fold in the playoffs. It's part of the sport's narrative.
Hockey is the heavy metal of sports. It's raw, violent, fast, emotional, and completely over-the-top. Skill has its Yngwie Malmsteem-esque place in hockey, but too much of that at the expense of what really matters will drive real fans away in droves. Hockey fans love the lightning-fast guitar solos of talent-soaked players like Datsyuk and Giroux, but they really connect with the thundering bass and drums of seeing their favorite third-liner plow through the crease and take two high-sticks to score an overtime goal. Or the primal scream of seeing the enemy's thug get his face rocked against the boards after a cheap shot. Or seeing the corners of the ice become violent mosh pits, where the unheralded emergency call-up that wills his way to winning a crucial puck battle triumphs over the guy who costs his team $9 million a season.
Take all that away, and you've got the worst of all possible worlds: Adult Christian Contemporary. Sure, some of those singers have great voices, and some of those musicians can really play their instruments well on a technical level. But do you know why Christian music sucks so hard? Because, unlike gospel and blues and metal and rock and punk and anything else with real emotion, it lacks conflict. Taking the conflict, the controversy and the blood-soaked frozen ice away from hockey will result in a sport only the wrong people could "love." If you disagree, fine! The figure-skating championships are probably just around the corner. Hopefully they won't try anything too risky and fall down. Falls are not conducive to "skill," and no one would be so crass as to watch figure skating to see people wipe out.
I can't read Shanahan's mind (or can I?), but he seems to know what's up. Hockey is a form of entertainment, just like reality TV and game shows where people eat gross things for the slim chance at winning money. Hockey is not there to bring people to a higher state of consciousness, or to usher in a New Age of Enlightenment. So the "stars" get preferential treatment: so what? "Stars" get top billing in movies, tv shows, commercials and strip-mall ribbon cutting ceremonies. So Shea Weber deserved at least a game or two for his turnbuckle headsmash in Game One. Well, he didn't, and now you get that many more games to watch one of the league's premier defensemen act like a point-a-game wrecking ball and bring one of the league's most storied franchises to its knees. So James Neal got just one game for targeting the head of another superstar. Well, he didn't, so now you get to enjoy a Game 5 where an angry and motivated Flyers team will have 60+ minutes to exact revenge. Think any of you are not going to tune in to see that? Maybe 7th Heaven is over on the WB at the same time? I heard Lifetime is showing Mystic Pizza and Merchant-Ivory's latest How Dry Was My Uterus: maybe you should just put on some Kenny G, settle in with some nonalcoholic wine and just avoid hockey for awhile. No need to get all worked up, y'know?