Don Cherry delivered up a classic rant on Coach’s Corner last night, a rant that was both predictable and offensive. Unlike most of the critics who are blasting him this morning, I think he should be lauded for so clearly laying out the battle lines. Attacking Don Cherry is not the answer. Addressing the issues he raises – however stupidly – is the correct approach. Making fundamental change to the game is not something that should be done lightly.
So far, I am pleasantly surprised by the changes we can see on the ice. I was pessimistic as long as Shanahan declared that the objective is only to eliminate the 50-100 ugly hits a season. That’s impossible. The only way to get rid of the really dangerous hits is to get the players to play less recklessly generally and that means less hitting, period. Shanahan may not want to significantly reduce hitting, but players are playing more under control, so that is the result so far. Maybe Shanahan has started something here. I’m still not convinced even though we’ve seen enough change already to make Cherry pop his cork.
The proof in the pudding will be whether the measures will survive the inevitable backlash. Cherry is part of that, but the larger part will come from the owners as they peer at the impact on the bottom line. Will fans pay as much for a less violent game?
Let’s address the charges:
“If you give the players an excuse not to hit, they won’t hit.”
This is probably true. The players let it be known three years ago that they wanted headshots out of the game. In both the examples Cherry cited, there was no hockey reason to make the hit. Their teams were not disadvantaged by the failure to deliver a punishing check. In one case, a bump finished the check, and in the other, peeling back was probably a better hockey play.
Nobody should be kidding anybody here. Fans loved watching Scott Stevens smoke people. We all love the thunderous hits. The question is whether the cost of these hits is too high. Do we lose the hits to protect the career and the health of the likes of Kariya and Lindros?
Don Cherry can ignore the very disturbing evidence of the dangers emerging, but players (and parents of players) will not. The players have made it clear that they think it has become too dangerous on the ice.
They want us to give them the excuse not to hit.
People are using the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak to advance an anti-fighting agenda.
Perhaps so, although I don’t think that’s nearly as despicable as Don does. Even though I’ve been careful not to link the issues, I will be shocked if Boogaard’s brain comes back clean. I find myself hoping that they did suffer from CTE, not because it advances an anti-fighting agenda, but because it explains the very bad choices each made.
The fact that Cherry can think of plenty of hockey suicides that did not involve enforcers is hardly reassuring after the Rick Martin study. The NHLPA has long had programs available for players who have difficulty adjusting to life after hockey, but I figured that these issues were mostly related to employment and finances. Now I wonder. I wonder about Brian Spenser and I wonder about Walt Poddubny.
This is not about fighting. It is about brain injury. What price do we expect players to pay for our entertainment? Is it as entertaining if we know (or we think) we are watching guys pound each other into dementia?
Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan, and James Thompson are hypocrites for speaking out against fighting after making a living in the enforcer’s role.
Is this hypocritical? I can’t see why their former occupation should have to restrain them if they feel differently about it today. We can’t expect today’s players to do anything except go along with the practice. When these guys were playing we were still pretending that people didn’t get hurt in fights.
Times – and opinions – change.