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Mike Schopp's Blog



SCHOPP: Jabberwocky hockey

I love a good sports argument as much as anyone. You know, who's the better player? Did the coach make the right call? Was the runner safe or out? Should the Sabres keep announcing the visiting team's goals like they're reading the fine print at the end of a car ad? You know, the big debates.

But when it comes to discussing whether certain hockey hits should lead to suspensions, I feel like I'm a backup goalie sitting alone on Long Island, in the corner, looking through the glass from a stool and away from all the action.

The latest go-round in the hundreds of such hits over the years is of course Zdeno Chara's plastering of Max Pacioretty. (We've all learned how to spell that name, haven't we?) Was it dirty? Should Chara have been suspended? What can the NHL do to reduce the number of these violent hits in the future?

Luckily for you I have answers to all three of these questions. Here they are, in order: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

Chara will play Thursday night when the Sabres visit Boston. Surely Buffalo players will fear for their lives.

I think we miss the big points in these debates. We pick at the minutia of it, splitting hairs of details that have been slowed down or frozen from what actually was a play that occurred at high speed. We get caught up in the details.

Hockey, your problem isn't in the details. Your problem is your past.

Chara, like the vast majority of NHL defensemen, are willing to toe the line (and occasionally cross it) to make sure you don't get into them. It's the deal they make with themselves. It's why they're in the league, making their millions. They want you to slow down and back off. Change this and for them it's goodbye NHL, hello TSN.

Hockey at the NHL level is about intimidation. "Sending messages", as they say. All that time and energy spent around the goal crease after saves, players pushing each other back and forth? Hockey tradition and culture considers this necessary and important. Make sure those guys know they're not allowed to stand here. Make sure the other guys know we'll stand wherever we please. And so on, for all time.

If I were a hockey player I'd step away from those scrums every time. What's the point? I'm coming back to this spot, I don't need to show or tell you that. Games are hard and fast, I need to not waste the energy. Of course, my attitude on this would not be welcomed in hockey so that would be that. I come from an alternate world, I guess.

Heck, this is a sport with a primary belief that goaltenders -- the most well-protected players on the ice -- are never to be touched. And you want me to figure this stuff out?

If your sport offers this macho mentality, let alone leads with it, you can't blame a guy too much for doing what Chara did. Is there a decency line? Sure. Does anyone of us think we really know where the NHL draws it? I'm pretty sure the players don't know.

NHL discipline has been a joke for my entire life. Who doesn't agree with this? I'm way past tired of arguing or worrying about it. It's like arguing about gas prices -- it's boring and pointless. When I get mad about how the NHL gives a slap on the wrist (or less) to a player who inflicts this kind of harm on another player, I get mad at myself for being naive, not the league. If you want change, take stricter discipline. It's not like there isn't a case to be made for it -- on this play and most others.

The hits just keep on coming and the wind keeps blowing. As for me, I'll keep sitting here on my stool, watching the game, seeing a sport through the looking glass.



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