If anyone has been paying attention to the 2011-2012 NHL, you know there has been a heavy focus on player safety and suspensions. The trends on Twitter, in blogs, on sports talk radio, even in player interviews is all about the physicality of the game. Rarely do you see the conversation focus on the skill and goals; they have become secondary to hits, fights, elbows, and questionable calls. For the most part, those in the NHL front office have remained mum on the topic, letting the fines for coaches and Shanaban videos speak for themselves.
This changed today.
Just hours before the announcement of Joel Quenneville’s fine of $10,000 for speaking out against the officiating of game 3 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Phoenix Coyotes, Wayne Gretzky gave an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, a Philadelphia based radio station. Their focus was on the Pittsburgh Penguins versus Philadelphia Flyers match up but the biggest take away from the whole conversation can be applied across the board this playoff season.
The bottom line is you got to win the hockey game. That’s where it hurts the most, not cross-checking the guy in the face. It’s winning the hockey game that hurts players the most.
That fact seems to be lost on so many of the series. Sure you have clean, hard hitting match ups (New Jersey Devils versus Florida Panthers) but any good press that match up produces is pushed aside with news of the newest suspension. Not including the yet to be suspended Raffi Torres, there have been 7 suspensions in the first round. There were 7 suspensions in the entire playoffs last season. Whether you want to chalk it up to the tightening of the rules, making up for only fining Shea Weber, or what ever else you can think of, the games’ focus has shifted. As Gretzky points out, that’s not what wins games.
Hockey is a sport of physical and mental endurance. The sport is already difficult enough before you throw in worrying about all this other factors the playoffs have brought to the game. You win games with goals, not cross-checks, blocked shots, not head shots.
Hopefully the youth of the sport will take heed, Gretzky may have played hockey in a different era, but the same basic structure of the game is still the same. Heart, hard work, and skill will carry you through, not thuggery.