I’m sure we’re all wondering what could have gone through the head of Milan Lucic as he was planning to throw his stick into the groin of Danny DeKeyser in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 18th. As a former player, I can tell you that emotions can get the better of you at times and he probably didn’t think about much other than, “I’m going to get back at this guy and hope I don’t get caught.”
I’m not questioning his judgment on the play because as dirty as it was, there’s a reason the NHL has a back official and that official missed the call (not to mention Lucic is known for these kinds of actions). On the other hand, it’s absolutely appalling that the NHL handed down a $5,000 fine to Lucic just one day after applying the season’s highest fine of $25,000 to Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. I can’t say for sure exactly what Quenneville said, but I can take a wild guess. And let’s not beat around the bush, we all know what he was implying with the gesture.
His actions, as inappropriate as they were, are not nearly as bad as Lucic’s attempt to destroy the chance of DeKeyser continuing his family name.
Let’s look at the numbers.
When you look at the NHL’s fines this season they have absolutely backed themselves into a corner. The season’s highest fine, prior to Quenneville’s interpretation of the Nutcracker, was to Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley for putting Kevin Westgarth in the starting lineup to instigate a fight with the Vancouver Canucks back on January 18th. The fine pulled $25,000 out of Hartley’s pocket and even got John Tortorella suspended for trying to go to Calgary’s locker room at the intermission (don’t have time to open up that bag of worms today unfortunately).
Think about this. Two head coaches have received the highest fines this year. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? Granted you can guess his intent, but did Hartley ever come out and say, “Yes I told Kevin to start a fight at the beginning of the game”? No, because no one in their right mind would do that even if that was the plan. That’s not even a justifiable argument. But does that decision warrant a fine of that gravity? Not to mention that Westgarth was not suspended for starting the whole thing in the first place.
Just 2 days before this incident, Vancouver was involved in the losing side of another NHL Fine. Martin Hanzal was called for high sticking when he crosschecked David Booth in the head. He was fined $5,000 for the play, which is in line with the fines the league had already handed out to players during the first half of the season. But it was a cross-check to the head of another player. That has to warrant more than a coach grabbing at his crotch right? Image is important, but it is definitely not as important as letting players know the league will do their best to make it safe for them to play.
The biggest issue with these NHL fines is that the league has now graded the level of actions. They have decided that the head coach is going to be held more responsible for his actions on the sidelines than players are for their actions on the ice. Coaches who make bad decisions that affect the welfare of other players do in fact deserve these fines, but what Quenneville did is not an act of hostility to an opposing player. With this fine, the NHL has set a precedent that verbal and visual actions are more harmful and dangerous than physical violence on the ice.
The players have become less responsible for their actions than the head coaches are and, in my opinion, it’s a problem.
Not convinced, take a look at this video before you read any further.
What was the fine on this sucker punch? A one game suspension… No monetary fine. No other discipline.
Lets not forget this is a league that is in the middle of two public lawsuits for concussion damage. HEAD SHOTS HAVE TO HAVE CONSEQUENCE. If the NHL wants to maintain the current style of hockey then they have to cut down on players acting in this violent way. Fighting is one thing because both players are accepting the chance that they will be injured. Some even take their own helmets off in fights. They know what could happen. The league has tried to address this with adding a two-minute minor for taking a helmet off on top of the five-minute fighting major, yet players still do it. That is not the problem.
A defenseless player who gets a shot to the head when not expecting it can suffer serious damage.
What the NHL needs to think about is where the game is headed. You have the ability to take these plays out of the game with harsher suspensions and bigger fines. These are guys who make a league minimum of $550,000. They can afford more than a $5,000 fine. We’re dealing with people’s safety here, long after retirement. The NHL doesn’t want to have another Bertuzzi/Moore incident on their hands. While coaches control the team they do not control the individuals actions. That’s why fines are necessary.
The solution needs to begin in the off-season. With Brendan Shanahan out of the Player Safety office and Brian Leetch and Patrick Burke at the helm there’s a chance we could see some changes. But if I were the NHL I would act fast. It’s only a matter of time before the public lawsuits wise up and stop focusing on fighting and start targeting the violent actions involving headshots.