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Hodge: NHL at a crossroads on hits, fighting

Dave Hodge
11/12/2008 10:06:01 PM
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Here's a question I heard the other day.

"What's all the fuss about the three-game suspension to Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos?"

It's just another three-game suspension, it was suggested.

Perhaps it made headlines because the victim was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Are we still talking about it if Mike Van Ryn is still a Florida Panther?

Maybe not, but it is at the very centre of a larger issue that the NHL struggles to deal with, and it needs to be discussed.

The three-game sentence to Kostopoulos says that what he did was wrong, but it also includes some understanding of the job he was doing as he pursued the Toronto defenceman behind the Leafs' net.

The National Hockey League would allow itself much more consistency if it threw the book at the Montreal player, or if it exonerated him with no supplementary discipline, and there are voices within the league who would espouse both courses of action.

In this case, they met in the middle at three games.

It's not nearly the end of the story, though.

The NHL finds itself at a delicate crossroads. While it tries to eliminate hits to the head, hits from behind, hits to the knees, hits that intend to injure and hits that happen to injure, it realizes that the game as we know it threatens to disappear if players decide they can't or shouldn't hit an opponent at all.

The players' association is doing its part to promote respect from one member to the next. Its campaign says that there's a time and a way to deliver a hit, and a time and a way to pull up.

Ironically, no such messages are sent about fighting, which happens to be on the rise while this attempt to reduce various forms of hitting takes shape.

At the drop of a glove, you can hear the archaic belief that no one gets hurt in a fight. Never mind the broken orbital bone suffered recently by Edmonton's Steve MacIntyre. No time is wasted on that - it's too complicated and gets in the way of the logic that says if there must be less hitting, there's still the scrapping to make it a rough and tough game.

That's about as good a solution as a three-game suspension, but if you've got a better idea, I'm sure the NHL would love to hear it.




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