By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) — On Wednesday afternoon, the Blackhawks announced that Jonathan Toews, who was injured by the now infamous “Brooks Orpik hit,” will miss the remainder of the regular season but will be “100 percent” once the playoffs begin.
While it’s encouraging that the Hawks are that optimistic about Toews’ playoff health, it might be wishful thinking. Yes, it’s safe to assume that the Hawks are simply playing it safe when it comes to the long-term health of their captain. I agree with that strategy. A healthy Toews is more important than home-ice advantage vs the Colorado Avalanche.
What rubbed me wrong after letting it sit a little bit is the “100 percent” claim. If the injury is bad enough to keep Toews out six games, there’s no way it will be fully healed in exactly two weeks when the playoff begin. That’s not to say Toews can’t return and be effective, but it will take him (and Patrick Kane as well) a game or two to get his groove back.
I still think the Hawks can beat the Avalanche with Toews and Kane playing at 80-85 percent, especially since Colorado will be without Matt Duchene, who’s out four weeks with a lower-body injury. Time will tell if Toews’ injury is as routine as Quenneville is making it sound.
Speaking of Toews, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three days, you’ve undoubtedly been inundated with talk on Twitter, Facebook and talk radio/TV about retaliation. Former players and analysts are jumping all over themselves to say the Hawks wussed out Sunday and should’ve “sent a message” to Brooks Orpik and the Penguins for a hit that was ruled clean but one that some thought was borderline dirty.
First of all, despite what all the experts say, retaliation truly accomplishes nothing. Orpik himself was a victim of retribution earlier this season. After he crushed the Bruins’ Loui Eriksson, Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton tried to fight Orpik. When Orpik refused, Thornton took advantage of a prone Orpik and punched him in the face while he was laying on the ice. Orpik left the game on a stretcher. Has his game changed? Absolutely not.
People want to envision this world of on-ice justice. “You hurt ours, we hurt yours.” That’s a lovely dream, but what it deteriorates into is head hunting, line brawls, suspensions and catastrophic injures. None of these things help the Blackhawks (or any team) win another Stanley Cup. The idea of “sending a message” is a complete myth.
Players play hard and take hits when they present themselves in the context of the game, as they should. Andrew Shaw and Patrick Sharp tried chasing Orpik around, then Shaw almost injured Sharp when they simultaneously collided with the Penguins defenseman.
After that, the Hawks (rightfully) played their style, and put themselves in a strong position to tie or win the game. They dominated that third period, and if not for another Brent Seabrook turnover, they may have tied it. Take a look at the Fenwick (shot attempts) chart below. I think it clearly illustrates that the Hawks had the right approach to “avenging” their captain.
Another thought dawned on me Wednesday night. Hockey players are supposed to be the toughest dudes on the planet, right? Why, then, is hockey the only sport in which it’s not OK to hit a star player? If an NHL player hits Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Wayne Gretzky, etc., said player is supposed to be punch and flogged and “have a message sent.”
Should Jared Allen hold up if he gets a clean shot on Aaron Rodgers next season? If he doesn’t, should the Packers O-line assault and send Allen a “message”?
Hockey is a contact sport. Star players should not be treated any differently than your average fourth-line grinder. If the hit is clean and on time, what’s the problem? Why should a player be assaulted for simply playing the game? Hockey fans love hard hits. Hockey players love delivering hard hits. But somehow, it’s not OK for an opponent to put a hit on a star player? How absurd is that?
Star players should be fair game in every sport. They should not be given an advantage other players don’t get. If anything, they should be targeted more often, just like NFL quarterbacks. Why should the best players be given an advantage? Should Chris Sale groove a fastball to Miguel Cabrera simply because he’s a star player?
Yes, it sucks to see Toews injured, but had Seabrook delivered that hit to Sidney Crosby, number 7 sweaters would be flying off the shelves.
Hockey is a contact sport. Maybe there shouldn’t be the expectation of an on-ice riot after contact is made.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.