By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Hey Gary Bettman, you have a phone call. It’s everybody. And they have a message for you:
You’re bad at your job.
If you want to have a league with bad rules, fine. If you want to have a league where fighting is legal, fine. Hell, if you want to have a league where grown men can run full speed into one another and slam their opponents’ heads against a board with absolutely zero cushioning, fine.
But if you’re going to have that weird league, at least enforce your bad rules consistently. And maybe don’t hire an ex-hockey thug with scrambled brains to do the enforcement for you.
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Brendan Shanahan, the league’s “chief disciplinarian”, had already managed to tick off hockey fans everywhere long before the Blackhawks and Coyotes took the ice Tuesday at the United Center. It started last week when he merely gave Nashville’s Shea Weber a $2,500 fine after he shoved a guy’s face into the glass. And it continued Tuesday afternoon when he handed Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw a three-game suspension for colliding with Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, despite the fact that it appeared Shaw made an attempt to avoid contact.
The inconsistencies have left even non-hockey fans confused, but even worse, it has left the players on the ice confused.
“I don’t know what to expect anymore,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “I don’t think anyone does.”
When the players don’t even know what to expect, then that’s when you can start fearing the worst for a sport that pretty much encourages brain damage. And Toews’ comment came after the worst nearly happened to his teammate, Marian Hossa.
Exactly one year after then-Canucks thug Raffi Torres nearly ended Brent Seabrook’s career, the now-Coyotes brute nearly did the same to Hossa. Torres took a run at the Blackhawks’ forward and hit him in the head with his left shoulder while leaving his feet. Not surprisingly, Hossa left on a stretcher.
Amazingly, no penalty was called. But really, should we be surprised? The idiocy starts at the top and trickles all the way down to the officials.
“We got four guys out there. When there’s a guy getting carried off on a stretcher you think that there might be something wrong with what happened,” Toews said. “Especially when they’re huddling around their goalie in the last game and he keeps playing and our guy (Shaw) gets three games for it. It’s pretty frustrating.”
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville called the officiating “a disgrace”, which it pretty much has been for the entire series. But again, when there is inconsistency raining from the top of the league, no one should be surprised when it shows up on the ice.
After Hossa was finally carried off the ice, Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig was the only one sent to the locker room after being given a 10-minute misconduct for retaliating. Phoenix, yes Phoenix, went on the power play.
And Bettman wonders why his league isn’t more popular.
Of course the game went on and showed its great potential. Few things are more exciting than playoff hockey. Once again we saw overtime, with the Coyotes pulling out the 3-2 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
But the giant elephant was still hanging around in the United Center. None of the fans knew the status of their star winger and the team didn’t give an update until the game was nearly over. For all they knew, Hossa was in ICU with his life on the line.
And sadly, at this rate, will it take a player’s death to get the NHL to wake up?
Not surprisingly, Torres didn’t think he did anything wrong, calling the hit a “hockey play.” While he’s obviously wrong, somewhere in his screwed up mind, he probably actually believes that, considering no one knows what a hockey play is anymore.
You have to feel sorry for most of the players. They don’t know what they can and can’t get away with most of the time. Thugs like Torres are the exception because in Bettman’s NHL, head hunting is OK, you know, until someone dies.
Part of the problem is that no one makes these guys answer for themselves. The Blackhawks couldn’t go after Torres, mostly because they just saw Shaw get a game-misconduct for bumping into the goaltender in the wrong spot. Hell, Torres didn’t even have to answer to the media. He took one question before looking at his PR guy to end the questions. No one should be surprised considering the coward hid from the Blackhawks for most of the game after his hit on Hossa.
At some point you would think even someone on his own team – maybe the head coach? – would have enough common sense to say, “Hey, maybe you should tone it down before you ruin a guy’s life.” Nah, Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett just said, “Looked to me like he was finishing his check.”
Giving Torres a lengthy suspension won’t cure the NHL’s problems, but maybe it will at least be a start. At the very least, it might bring some levity to a series that has completely spun out of control. But this isn’t the only series out of control. The entire Stanley Cup playoffs have been an embarrassment thus far.
Can Bettman and Shanaban possibly put their brains together to put this train back on track before it completely derails?
It’s doubtful, but here’s to hoping for a miracle.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.