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NHL keeps looking the other way on dangerous play

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So NHL referees are kind of done with policing the game, that’s pretty much it, amirite?

The Capitals’ Tom Wilson, flashing that lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card with which he has been endowed by the laughably named Department of Player Safety, rammed Brandon Carlo’s head into the glass on Friday and the league immediately went into contortions attempting to find the technicality to get the Washington predator off.

See … see right there … when you slow it down, he brushes Carlo’s wrist, glove-first … no, slow it down more … you see … ?”

That is what was going on in the aftermath of the hit, on which referees Dean Morton and Pierre Lambert called no penalty on the play, which sent the Bruins’ Carlo off to the hospital from which he was released Saturday night.

But earlier Saturday, in what was believed a response to the firestorm set off in response to this example of blind justice, the league invited Wilson for an in-person hearing via video conference that finally led to a suspension of seven games without pay.

We’ll see, but it sounds as if commissioner Gary Bettman might finally have had enough of this.

There is more, though, for Bettman to address if he wants to get into the weeds.

A dangerous and apparently intentional slew-foot levied by the Hurricanes’ Brett Pesce against the Red Wings’ Robby Fabbri on Thursday drew just a minor penalty for tripping and no further discipline from the league, when a match penalty and suspension of multiple games were merited for the blatant act of violence.

NHL Rule 52.2: “Any player who is guilty of slew-footing shall be assessed a match penalty.”

Except, apparently, for games in which TJ Luxmore and Frederic L’Ecuyer are the referees.

In 1998, when Colin Campbell took command as the VP of Hockey Operations in charge of supplemental discipline, three players were suspended for slew-footing by the end of November. The NHL was on a particular crackdown.

But in this brave new world, there has not been an NHL player suspended for slew-footing in more than six years, since the Bruins’ Brad Marchand received a two-game sentence for taking down the Rangers’ Derick Brassard in January 2015.

That represented Stephane Quintal’s first year as head of the player safety department, a job he held through 2016-17. Since George Parros succeeded Quintal (well) at the start of 2017-18, not a player has been held to account for this cowardly and dangerous breach of rules and etiquette.

So that was Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin speared the Bruins’ Trent Frederic in the family jewels as if he were the matador Manolete goring a beast in the bullring, got a two-minute minor for, get this, slashing, and was sent merrily on his way with a $5,000 fine.

The Bruins' Brandon Carlo after being hit into the boards by Tom Wilson.
The Bruins’ Brandon Carlo
AP

Deterrence seems to be a thing of the past, much like making the playoffs in Buffalo.

The league’s hockey people have no appetite for a crackdown, and neither does the union, forever opposing harsh sentencing guidelines. This will not change until the overwhelming majority of players who are prey to predators demand change from the union.

But you know what’s also true about the vast majority of players? They only seem to think guys on other teams should get suspended.

And as I have written many, many times, if they don’t care about their own health and safety, why should anyone else? own health and safety, why should anyone else?


That’s some small circle of friends, as Phil Ochs might have observed, from which NHL teams are now making their hires.

If it wasn’t curious enough that the P-P-P-Penguins dragged Brian Burke out of well-deserved retirement into the cold to run the team’s hockey operations, could not the Flames find a more creative way to replace Geoff Ward behind the bench than going back to the future for Darryl Sutter?

Yes, Burke did preside as GM over Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup title, but Jean Perron once won a Cup as coach of the Canadiens in 1986 and no one was flagging him down a decade-and-a-half later to go behind an NHL bench.

Burke has operated as an NHL general manager or President of Hockey Operations for 19 seasons. Outside of the two-year run in Anaheim in which the Ducks went to the conference finals in 2006 and then took the title a year later, his teams have won the grand total of two playoff rounds.

But this is the man Mario Lemieux has chosen to guide his team into the future. Progressive thinking in Pittsburgh.

The same in Calgary, where the Flames are on their fourth coach in five seasons and could come up with nothing more creative than hiring the guy who was last behind their bench in 2005-06.

What’s next? Doug MacLean back behind the bench in Columbus if this is it for John Tortorella?


Friday night, the Sharks were playing in gray alternate uniforms and not a player could be identified by his number. Meanwhile, the Red Wings’ reverse retros look like replica practice jerseys, something you could buy in a schlock shop.

But … if you noticed how the numbers and names on the Rangers’ Statues of Liberty’s popped last weekend in comparison to the first few times they were worn, head equipment manager Acasio Marques, who redid the numbers and names by lightening the dark shadows, gets the credit for the improvement.


A farewell to Mark Pavelich, the troubled member of the 1980 Miracle Team USA and popular Ranger who was one of the faces of Herb Brooks’ Smurfs, who passed under tragic circumstances on Thursday. May he find the peace that eluded him through the final years of his life.


Finally, when they made the mold of what a hockey parent should be, they made it in the person of Walter Gretzky. Wayne Gretzky’s dad was humble, supportive, understood that youth hockey should be fun, and had a heart as large as his beloved Canada.

Known as Wally to all he befriended and to the masses of kids whom he touched and inspired, he was a role model every bit as much as No. 99.

Walter Gretzky’s passing surely leaves a hole in the heart of the game, but it will be filled forever more by his spirit of generosity that will live for eternity.

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