We are now two weeks into a fresh, new NHL season and it appears that some things never change. On Wednesday 07 October, the Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Montréal Canadiens in the season opener for both teams. Early in the first period, Leo Komarov shoved P.K. Subban from behind into the boards. The hit itself was nasty, but the fact that Subban did not turn into the hit, the fact that he was a dangerous distance from the boards and the fact that the puck had left the area combine to make it an inexcusable act. Thankfully, Subban got up and finished the game. Komarov, for his transgression, got nothing more than 2 minutes for Boarding. I am constantly puzzled as to why hits like Komarov’s receive little to no discipline on the ice, and rarely, if ever, face punishment off it. Though Komarov’s hit was not outright predatory, it was the latest in a long line of illegal plays that the NHL should be, via strict disciplinary practice, eradicating from the game forever.
Admittedly, the league has made some progress in cracking down on its most predatory players. With Raffi Torres being handed a 41-game suspension – and deservedly so – for an illegal check thrown in the preseason, I was cautiously optimistic that the league had turned a corner. After what went on in last year’s playoffs, I felt that change could not come fast enough. In the first round alone, there were enough dangerous plays to turn even the most conservative of hockey people cynical. Lubomir Visnovsky gets run over by Tom Wilson on a play where the puck was long gone and where the head was deliberately targeted. No supplementary discipline. John Tavares gets crushed from behind by Alexander Ovechkin (before setting up a goal, yes, I know). No supplementary discipline. Ovechkin obliterated Thomas Hickey in a very similar fashion later on in that series. No supplementary discipline. Sidney Crosby, of all people, was the victim of a drive-by headshot from the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin. No supplementary discipline, even with Crosby’s history of concussions, not to mention the fact that, you know, he is the best player in the world. Now let’s go back to 2011 when a young, up-and-coming goaltender by the name of James Reimer was clipped in the head by Brian Gionta of the Canadiens. No supplementary discipline. Oh, and, by the way: how on EARTH was Dustin Brown not penalised, let alone suspended for this hit earlier this year?!
There is a popular line recited ad nauseam regarding this issue: “Things aren’t going to change until a real superstar gets hurt”. Well, lest we forget, earlier in 2011, Sidney Crosby received the first of his serious head injuries courtesy of David Steckel in the Winter Classic. Any guesses as to what happened? No supplementary discipline. Seeing a pattern here?
NHL discipline should be applied without regard to either players’ stature within the game, but if you can’t, at the very least, protect your most valuable assets, then something is seriously wrong with your business model. And yes, I get that many of the above examples occurred in the playoffs. But the hits are still just as hard in April as they are in September. I love Ovechkin, I really do. He is a guy who is electric to watch and really seems to have fun out there. So I hate to single him out as an example. But his combination of exuberant power hockey and blinding speed, has, multiple times, led him over the edge, resulting in suspensions of 2, 2 and 3 games. Given this history, it boggles the mind how the NHL did not throw at least a couple of games at him last April. One could even make a case for a half-dozen game. It should have been even more but, due to the NHL’s ridiculous double standard of officiating and discipline that is evident each Spring – on account of the playoffs, I’d better not get greedy. If the Caps were to have lost their best player for any amount of time, how eager would other players around the league be to pull the same type of thing? Instead, nothing happened and the hazardous play continues to this day.
Joe Torre, the legendary baseball figure, hit the nail on the head when discussing his decision to suspend Chase Utley for an illegal slide during the MLB playoffs. He talks about wanting to “keep…players on the field”. This should be the ultimate goal of any professional sports league. Teams and fans alike invest a lot of time and money in players and, in the words of Harold Reynolds (who can be heard later in the above clip), “you want [that] protected”. Aside from teams and fans, players bank on themselves, too. These are individuals who have spent most of their childhood and adolescence practising a sport, and have but a few short years in adulthood to make their money. Injuries can seriously snarl up these plans. Let’s look at the star players that have left the league recently due to head injuries alone: Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya, Marc Savard, Chris Pronger… Need I go on? Fans go to sporting events to see stars play, not to see them carted off the ice on stretchers. And if the NHL can’t even protect their stars, let alone their journeymen, then its future as a league looks bleak.
The NHL’s inaction on increasing and enforcing discipline has left a trail of agony and heartbreak far beyond the ice surface. Over the years, countless players have either been diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome or have succumbed to its effects. Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador are three players whose tragic deaths have been linked to concussions. There are suspicions that the deaths of other players, including Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, are also connected to head injuries. The NHL is currently fighting legal action which alleges the league was aware of the perils of head trauma and did little to address it. In some situations, they allegedly made things even worse. Check out the first couple pages of this court document from February and tell me it doesn’t give you chills. The NHL even tried to fight the lawsuit at its source, saying it was too costly to pull and compile all of the applicable medical records.
The NHL needs to change, and needs to change now in order to stop the bleeding and make the game what it can and should be: a fast, hard, competitive sport that people can watch and make a living playing without fear of someone’s brain getting smacked around. Hockey will always be a tough sport. But it can be tough without being inherently dangerous. The NHL needs to realise that its actions – or inaction – trickle down to leagues of all levels. By all accounts, minor hockey is haemorrhaging players. There are a few other factors at play, but one major contributor is player safety; parents don’t want their kids’ brains to be scrambled before they graduate high school. This development is, obviously, going to be severely detrimental to the league, if not tomorrow, then 10, 15, 20 years down the road.
The National Hockey League has a real opportunity here to stand out among its peers. Major League Baseball and the National Football League, who have both struggled with injury concerns of their own, are notoriously slow-acting in these regards. All that would be necessary is for the rules of the league to be enforced at all times and, when necessary, tweaked. For instance, why not make Boarding and Charging calls automatic 5-minute majors? Why not judge plays not on the health of the recipient, but on the merits – or lack thereof – of the play itself? Why not make such suspensions 5 games for a first offence? Let’s make sure the games are decided by the presence of players, not the absence of them.
The NHL should also, without reservation, compensate the poor souls who devoted their life to this game, only to emerge battered, bruised and concussed. Some, tragically, didn’t emerge at all. How refreshing would it be to see the league come out and say, “We screwed up. We were wrong and we want to make it right.” Put plainly, the league needs to take responsibility. The NHL can deny, deny, deny all it wants. But anyone with even a modicum of common sense must realise that the NHL knew what was going on. It is up to the courts now. Let’s hope they do the right thing, both for the individuals involved and for the game as a whole. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
So what did Komarov deserve? A 5-minute major for Boarding and a Game Misconduct, in my opinion. A 2 or 3-game suspension would not have been out of line, either. But what does the NHL deserve? You tell me; this league makes Raffi Torres look like a saint.
The NHL season is upon us! If you are one of the many who just can't stand the blaring horns that sound whenever the home team scores a goal, then you'll be happy to know that I will be describing them in detail below! Full credit to wejustscored.com and YouTube user NHLHornsandSongs for all of the examples!
ANAHEIM DUCKS: somewhere between "deep, pleasing baritone" and "I really should've eaten more fibre". Actually, given the inexplicable EMS siren accompanying the horn, perhaps it is closer to the latter. Take a listen.
ARIZONA COYOTES: a coyote howling? "Howlin' for You" as your goal song? We get it guys, you're the Coyotes. Howl away.
BOSTON BRUINS: clearly a recording - and not a good one, at that. Apparently, someone still uses a Krzr - of someone else's horn (notice how it is the exact same, every time?). More is expected from an NHL team, let alone one from the Original Six. Get your Kernkraft 400 on.
BUFFALO SABRES: definitely a winner. Best if paired with Rick Jeanneret. Looking to hear more of both in the coming years; fingers crossed for the rebuild! Let's Go, Buffalo!
CALGARY FLAMES: sounds like a party waiting to happen. Maybe that's why Brian Burke's tie is always loose/undone/missing? The flame effects in the arena are especially neat. Light it up!
CAROLINA HURRICANES: perhaps the horn most suited to the team name. All is well until the bewildering compendium of sound effects following the horn itself. The PA guy announcing that the Hurricanes just scored? Chewbacca and Fred Flintstone? And the course for Song 2 perpetually looped? Just weird.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: well, it's certainly working for them. I think every single hockey fan has that blaring horn (fun fact: the original one was allegedly off of late former owner Bill Wirtz's boat) and Chelsea Dagger stuck in their heads. Another Cup?
COLORADO AVALANCHE: this horn... Either it has Altitude Sickness or it sat on something sharp, 'cause it just doesn't sound like something grown adults should be celebrating to. I expect better than this from the state that gave the world Boulder University.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: the horn itself is nice and aggressive, and then comes the cannon. The awesomeness of the arena effects when the Jackets score is almost enough to make you forget their secondary logo is a hat. Fire away.
DALLAS STARS: a nice, warm, throaty horn! ...accompanied by grown men screaming "Dallas...Stars...Dallas...Stars", like some infant blurting out his or her first words. Is this really necessary? Who else are they there to see? Take a listen.
DETROIT RED WINGS: another nice, cozy-feeling horn. However, for regular watchers of Red Wings games, it must be disappointing that it tends to come on about eight minutes after the puck actually crosses the goal line.
EDMONTON OILERS: literally THE most aggravating, ear-splitting goal horn in the Western Conference. The only thing more annoying? When it is accompanied by Pitbull. Pretty sure it is meant for dogs.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: and the award for the Most Generic Goal Horn goes to....the Florida Panthers! The panther sound effect is neat, though. Too bad no one is there to hear it.
LOS ANGELES: how is THIS not the most annoying horn, you ask? Well, let's be honest, the Kings have earned the right to be annoying. Two Stanley Cups will do that (take note, Edmonton). Remember that the next time you feel like a train is going to come ploughing through your television set.
MINNESOTA WILD: again, kind of generic. One expects more from a team literally called the “Wild”. The Xcel Energy Center is rocking when the Wild play. They deserve to party.
MONTRÉAL CANADIENS: now is this not just the most irritating thing in human history? It is like a fly constantly buzzing around your ear when you’re outside just trying to have a damn picnic. Or, put another way, the horn is Brendan Gallagher incarnate. The fact that the man or woman in the booth honks it about sixty-four times after a big goal makes it just the worst.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: must be frightening to hear while driving, as it sounds like a semi-truck is about to carve you up. Even the country song they play afterwards works. Simply brilliant.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: the Devils have scored so few goals over the years that you can be forgiven for not knowing what their goal horn sounds like. Kinda nautical-y. Which makes sense, if you think about it. After all, Newark-Elizabeth’s container port is one of the busiest in the country. …now, was that fun fact any more boring that watching the Devils play? You decide.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Isles fans got a scare a week or so ago, when the Barclays Center announced that this would be the Islanders new horn. No one cares that you worked on it with the MTA, it still sounds like all of the air is rushing out of a balloon. Or the horn on one of those plastic children’s pedal cars. Or trying to stealthily release some flatulence but failing miserably. If anything, it sucks even more because you DID work on it with the MTA (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not the most beloved organisation in New York, or so I gather). That would be like the Leafs changing their horn to the familiar “bing, bang, bong” of public transport in the Greater Toronto Area. It would be bad enough, but mention that you worked on it with the TTC and there would be riots in the streets. Thankfully, the decision was reversed and Islanders players can now cele hard to their old, appropriate, nautical-sounding goal horn.
NEW YORK RANGERS: this buzzer sounds like it has been around since (this version of) Madison Square Garden opened in 1968. The song is brilliant, but come on, this is New York. MSG could use something better than this.
OTTAWA SENATORS: the mournful wail of an arena that is, quite literally, stuck in the middle of a cornfield. They should really Hamburgle another horn.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: if any goal horn sums up the fans of that team, this is it. A hyper-aggressive blast or two followed by the most obnoxious song in the world.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: two generational talents, a Stanley Cup, a new arena and a goal horn that puts a smile on the faces of people everywhere. Screw you, Pittsburgh.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: sounds like someone’s sitting up in the A/V booth with a baritone sax. Fantastically good and flows beautifully into the electronic rendition of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll”.
ST LOUIS BLUES: ear-splitting and aggressive, but really needs to stop taking vacation during the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: it sounds a little too much like someone is holding their electric razor up to a microphone. Also, too similar to the horn of the Blues.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: ohhh, the Maple Leafs. Always something going on with this team; never a dull moment. It’s a shame that their goal horn is about as exciting as lukewarm porridge.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: apparently, some 6 year-old is up there mashing buttons, ‘cause there are about eighty-four different things going on here.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: how much would you HATE having this come on 3 or 4 times per game whenever your team visits Washington? And, be honest now, when you hear it go off, does it not instantly conjure up images of Ovi? It’s only fitting that the happiest, most exuberant player gets an arena celebration to match. Great horn, great siren, great song.
WINNIPEG JETS: another train horn, though with a much better song and presentation than that of the Kings. Also less likely to make you wet yourself when it goes off. Winnipeg is a strong contender for best goal horn in the NHL. Here’s hoping their fans get a little something more to celebrate this year.
Kit of the Day: The Arizona Coyotes
All illustrations by Andrew M. Greenstein, The unofficial NHL Uniform Database
The Arizona Coyotes will be sporting new uniforms for the 2015-16 NHL season. At first glance, the addition of black seems to be a welcome one, given the relative blandness of the previous version (see below).
The black certainly livens up the jersey, but still doesn’t solve a fundamental problem: the lack of tail striping. Many teams went along with this unfortunate trait of the Reebok Edge Uniform System, before realising it looked silly – even practice-y – not to have anything at the bottom of the jersey. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the St. Louis Blues are examples of teams that, dissatisfied with the redesign, reverted back to a jersey with tail stripes.
On the other side of things, the modified sleeve striping creates a new problem: There are now three colours on the sleeve, which, in the current arrangement, looks overly busy when compared to the single colour of the jersey body. In addition, the stripes on the sleeves are not only all different colours, but differently sized as well, with no discernable symmetry (compare with the slim-thick-slim pattern of their previous jersey). All this busyness combines to make the Coyote’s latest stab at a jersey rather unbalanced and disorienting. Though Pippi Longstocking might approve, the human eye does not.
As for the rest of the kit, the black pants actually look rather nice when contrasted with the white or brick red of the jersey body. However, the socks carry over the unfortunate condition of the jersey sleeves; just too much going on.
The Coyotes were long overdue for a uniform change. However, this new rendition leaves much to be desired. Though, as mentioned, it is confusing to look at, perhaps even more importantly, it still manages, somehow, to be as uninspiring as the old model. What about if all of the stripes were diagonal? What if the players wore them inside out? Yes, it would still look unpleasant, but hey, it wouldn’t be boring. If anything, why not bring back the kit from their original season (see below)? They did so for one game last year, after all.
Yes, the logo is a tad unsettling and yes, that sand-coloured striping is a bit unusual. But hey, it’s not overtly offensive and certainly stands out in comparison to the current uniform, which is a symphony of bland. Take the current logo – the howling coyote. Decent enough, yes. But the San Jose Sharks crest is an angry shark chomping down on a hockey stick. The Florida emblem depicts a panther pouncing on an opponent. In contrast, Arizona’s coyote just seems to be howling aimlessly off into the distance (perhaps trying to sell tickets?). More aggressiveness is warranted. Or, in the case of the original, more creepiness. Disturbing logo aside, it is symmetrical and balanced, and everything about it screams “American Southwest”. For a team without the baggage of nostalgia and tradition to worry about, why not?