First things first. I get that hockey is a rough sport.
I mean, it’s not exactly a secret, is it? My sisters and I first started watching the NHL because of the fights. I think many fans started the same way. To this day, I describe the sport to people as “soccer with weapons, armor and bad terrain.”
So yeah. Nobody’s mistaking this for a tiddlywink arena.
But even so, there’s rough and there’s wrong. And this time around, the Minnesota Wild are on the wrong side.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, welcome back to Colorado and I hope your vacation was nice. Because if you were anywhere within shouting distance — and I use the phrase deliberately — of the Front Range this week, you already know far more about the laming of the Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie than you ever wanted to know.
The uproar was huge when the Wild’s Matt Cooke slammed his knee into Barrie’s, taking Barrie out of the playoffs with a ligament injury. It was only slightly less muted when the league agreed that, yes, the hit had been improper, and announced Cooke’s punishment.
Mind you, that’s better than nothing at all. And there’s a good chance those games will be served next season, because, honestly, the Wild looked like they were already on their way out of the playoffs before they turned the Avs into the Big Red Rage Machine. But still — seven games?
That’s … what’s the word I want? Oh, yes. Pitiful.
Now, my friends from New England may think I’m throwing stones in a glass house here. After all, the Broncos reached the Super Bowl after a “pick play” wound up knocking Patriot defender Aqib Talib out of the game. But I do think there’s a distinction, and not just because we paid our penance by being nationally embarrassed and then signing the player we injured.
I believed then and I believe now that the injury on that play was accidental. (Not least because a receiver like Wes Welker isn’t built for the bully-boy game.) If I thought otherwise, I’d want Welker out on his ear. Leave the bounty hunting to Boba Fett and “Dog” Chapman and let everyone else play football.
Coming back to the ice, most folks agree that Cooke’s shot was no accident. Cooke has a record as a thug. Sure, he’s renounced that past, but that’s taken about as seriously as weather forecasts, political promises and guarantees that this year, the Cubs will win it all. If you saw someone weaving on the road who had seven previous DUIs, your first conclusion would not be that the car’s frame has a bad alignment.
How do you get a hardcase to take this seriously? By upping the ante. One fan on Facebook had the ideal answer: suspend him for as long as the injury lasts.
Four weeks to heal? Four week suspension.
Six weeks on the disabled list? Six weeks on the you-know-what list.
Never able to return? Have fun asking if you want fries with that.
Granted, you have to be able to show intent. But that’s already the case anyway. And unless the disparity in talent is huge, most teams have little to gain from “milking” the injury to keep another player off the ice. After all, you’ll only play that opponent a handful of times a year, but losing your own player affects your team every day.
There’s plenty of room for rough. There’s no room for foul.
Think about it, NHL.
This isn’t just a want. It’s a kneed.