Friday, July 25th, 2014

Cherry’s Rant

10

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.

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Comments

10 Responses to “Cherry’s Rant”
  1. Boxcar says:

    Personally, I found the opening NHL games sort of like watching rec hockey. When I raise this point on boards I am called a neanderthal, dinosaur etc. After playing, watching and coaching hockey for over 40 years maybe the hockey writers are correct and it’s time for fans like me to take a backseat to the writers and the fans they promise will come if the game is changed to more of a basketball on ice type game.
    It just seems like the game is being changed to suit the people who don’t watch hockey. I don’t want to see players careers ended but I don’t want to see a non contact NHL. One answer that a lot of neanderthals have put forward is making the rink larger, olympic size. This would solve a lot of problems but owners would lose money on seats so it won’t happen. New rules don’t even need to be added, how about calling charging again, or intent to injure? How about players taking some responsibility for keeping their heads up? How about taking an angled approach to the boards as we were taught as kids?
    I know the enlightened folks on here will rip into me and tell me to go watch WWF and UFC. My advice to the hockey writers who are trying to out do each other in their calls for an end to the madness is to be careful what you wish for. Let the ripping begin.

  2. Tom says:

    Personally, I found the opening NHL games sort of like watching rec hockey. When I raise this point on boards I am called a neanderthal, dinosaur etc. After playing, watching and coaching hockey for over 40 years maybe the hockey writers are correct and it’s time for fans like me to take a backseat to the writers and the fans they promise will come if the game is changed to more of a basketball on ice type game.

    I think this is fair enough, although I would point out that the game today has never been more gratuitously violent. Hitting is up enormously just since the lockout. I don’t think we will ever dial it back to the point where it is not a violent, physical game. But is it really a bad thing to dial it back to about 1990?

    And it is likely that where we are today is not where we are going to end up. The players may be overreacting.

    One answer that a lot of neanderthals have put forward is making the rink larger, olympic size. This would solve a lot of problems but owners would lose money on seats so it won’t happen. New rules don’t even need to be added, how about calling charging again, or intent to injure? How about players taking some responsibility for keeping their heads up? How about taking an angled approach to the boards as we were taught as kids?

    I don’t like the game on the big surface, but it would probably help with brain injuries. However, I’m not sure the result would please you because the result would be less hitting with that choice, too. I don’t see any way around it. The same level of hitting is not compatible with safety.

    Calling charging or intent to injure is sort of what they are doing. They are trying to take the worst hits out of the game, the blows to the head. To avoid making these hits, the players have to stay more in control, play less recklessly, and show some respect when an opponent is in a vulnerable position. That’s less hitting. I don’t see any way around it.

    Players (particularly fringe players) charge recklessly around the ice trying to – in PJ Stock’s words – hit guys hard enough to hurt them. Not to injure, not to win the puck, not to eliminate a guy from the play but to hurt. It does not take much of a misjudgement to really hurt somebody. I won’t argue that Rock ‘em sock ‘em hockey is not more entertaining. The question is what price entertainment? And what is the future of hockey if it keeps trending towards an extreme sport?

    I keep running into parents who are gently and not so gently pushing their kids away from hockey because they think it is too dangerous.

    • Boxcar says:

      Just an update. I have watched more games since my comment and they are much improved. Tonight though, Chris Neil took a major run at a Minnesota Wild player, and what I would say is charging, wasn’t called. I always thought you couldn’t take more than three strides to hit another player.
      These are the hits I don’t understand. Sometimes it’s nothing and sometimes it’s the worst hit ever, and it’s exactly the same hit. Player A comes around net with puck, Player B skates from blue line and catches Player A with his head down and wham.
      Player A should have his head up and his goalie should be yelling to warn him, but Player B has too much momentum because he “charged” from the blue line.

      Suggestions;
      Call Charging
      Cut down the time allowed to “finish your check”

      • Tom says:

        Sometimes it’s nothing and sometimes it’s the worst hit ever, and it’s exactly the same hit.

        No doubt. That was one of the issues with the Rome hit in the SCF. We’ve seen that hit many times without a call. Horton got hurt – and that’s what made it late. It was not any later than, say, the hit Getzlaf made to concuss Hamhuis.

        Cut down the time allowed to “finish your check”

        Agreed on this one. I’ve called for the same thing. Rome’s hit should have been considered late. Instead of 2 or 3 beats to make the hit, make it one or two. Otherwise it is interference.

  3. beingbobbyorr says:

    The question is what price entertainment?

    I keep running into parents who are gently and not so gently pushing their kids away from hockey because they think it is too dangerous.

    So what don’t you like about just letting the players & their parents decide if the cost is worth the reward and let the numbers do the talking?

    Minor hockey participation rates = labor & customers in the future. Shouldn’t this be part of the metrics the BoG use to judge Bettman (& by extension Shanahan)?

    And what is the future of hockey if it keeps trending towards an extreme sport?

    I’m just as (more) worried about the future of hockey if it keeps trending towards an expensive sport . . . . but nobody is following me in calling for going back to wood sticks ($30 instead of $300 composities), minimum weight skates (so 11-year-olds don’t nag Dad for $500 Vapors) and banning thermablades (another $300 add-on to skates that’s equivalent to the nuclear arms race).

    • Boxcar says:

      Agree wholeheartedly on the cost issue. Most parents I know who don’t put their kids in hockey cite cost as the main cause.

  4. Tom says:

    So what don’t you like about just letting the players & their parents decide if the cost is worth the reward and let the numbers do the talking?

    I don’t think either parents or players understand how unlikely the reward or how steep the cost. But I do think parents are making the choice. The expense is certainly a factor, too. Some parents may be saying “Its too dangerous” when they can’t afford it.

    Minor hockey participation rates = labor & customers in the future. Shouldn’t this be part of the metrics the BoG use to judge Bettman (& by extension Shanahan)?

    Should it? What does Bettman care about the state of the game in 2030? Owners care about the bottom line today and franchise appreciation in the medium term. When has the NHL or NHL owners ever made a choice for the long term health of the game?

    • beingbobbyorr says:

      Should it? What does Bettman care about the state of the game in 2030? Owners care about the bottom line today and franchise appreciation in the medium term. When has the NHL or NHL owners ever made a choice for the long term health of the game?

      My (engineering) employer is constantly offering us (practicing engineers) incentives ($$$) to go out and help with STEM (science, tech, eng, math) events that try to plant the seeds in grades 1-12. Obviously that won’t pay off until a similar time frame as a pro athlete. . . . . and our top leadership can take lump-sum payouts at retirement, so somewhere, somehow our BoD has given them incentives to think 20+ years ahead. I’m not sure why the NHL BoG can not think similarly. Ed Snider, Jeremy Jacobs, Peter Karamanos, and Mike Ilitch have all set some precedent for long-term planning. Hell, even Phil Anshutz is coming up on 17 years.

      Present sports team owners hope to make most of their money on the value of the franchise (and league) when it comes time to sell. Surely they’re anticipating that smart buyers will look at the long-term trends for labor & customers, and use that in negotiations ( even if they don’t really intend to be long-term holders/stewards ).

      • Tom says:

        My (engineering) employer is constantly offering us (practicing engineers) incentives ($$$) to go out and help with STEM (science, tech, eng, math) events that try to plant the seeds in grades 1-12. Obviously that won’t pay off until a similar time frame as a pro athlete.

        Will they risk revenues to plant these seeds? These types of events are also good public relations, a form of institutional advertising. Goodwill in the community, whether it ever pays off with employees in the long term.

        Present sports team owners hope to make most of their money on the value of the franchise (and league) when it comes time to sell. Surely they’re anticipating that smart buyers will look at the long-term trends for labor & customers, and use that in negotiations ( even if they don’t really intend to be long-term holders/stewards ).

        Somehow, I don’t think hockey participation rates in Canada come up when Tom Gaglardi is negotiating for the Dallas Stars. Maybe I’m wrong, but…

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  1. [...] TOM BENJAMIN’S HOCKEY BLOG: Tom believes attacking Don Cherry for his recent rant (If you give the players the excuse, they won’t hit; People using the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak to advance anti-fighting agenda; Former enforcers being hypocritical for suggesting fighting either doesn’t belong in the game or is being phased out) isn’t the correct approach, but rather addressing the issues he raised, as it regards fundamental changes to the game. [...]



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