Fresh on the heels of the latest attempt by the Philadelphia Flyers to reconnect with their history, comes this report from Darren Dreger of TSN that the players of the teams visited so far by newly-minted Executive Director of the NHLPA Paul Kelly are telling him that it's time for the instigator to be flushed down the memory hole of bad ideas like Slavery, New Coke and the Labor Theory of Value (otherwise known as Marxism).
Kelly is asking players the question, "Do you want it removed?," and sources say the vast majority are saying yes. At the competition committee level last year, the players voted in favour of leaving it in.
So, what's changed?
As one player put it, "guys have to be more accountable," citing hits to the head and hits from behind this season as the motivator for urgency.
My only response to this is, "ABOUT FRIGGIN' TIME GUYS!"
Our fearless leader here at FanHouse, Eric McErlain, showed why he rocks and I'm a slacker with his interview of Matt Pettinger, which gave me the sense of both frustration and futility at the current situation. Unfortunately, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Pettinger, because I don't think that even a serious, serious injury or death will change the nigh-psychotic love affair that a segment of the hockey community has with violence of this type.
Eric's listing of the responses he's received from fans on this issue as well as the fascinating comment thread from his post linked above stands as a testament to a state of psychosis that is so ingrained in this society that we actually consider these positions worthy of discussion as opposed to dismissing them as prima facia evidence of dementia.
It is only natural when confronted with a monstrous act of violence from a person that we have come to identify with to look for rational motive or a reason to blame the victim for the incident. It happens all the time.
I'm not immune from it, none of us are.
It is why, as a culture, we can justify to ourselves killing thousands of people we don't know in the name of a badly-implemented ideal of self-defense (Iraq/Vietnam/etc.); why we can justify institutionalized violence of the types both mundane and horrific, as long as they are committed by a class of people wearing a uniform of some form; be that uniform a soldier's, policeman's ("Don't Tase Me, Bro") or, yes, even a hockey player.
Make no mistake, these are pure, unadulterated acts of violence. And, while some amount of violence is inherent in the game of hockey, the degree to which things have accelerated will result in a watershed moment for the league and its fans. Whether any substantive change occurs from that moment is certainly up for debate. As I've already stated, I'm not hopeful.
Frankly, I see the NHL on this issue as nothing more than a sad reflection through a glass darkly of our rotting culture. Over-regulation, centralized power structures, lack of personal accountability and a poorly implemented 'justice system' have created a chaotic, vindictive community of personally irresponsible, yet fully-grown children running around violating not only the letter and/or spirit of the rules of the game but the rights of the people they play the game against.
And, sadly, we not only cheer them for it, we pay them a stupendous salary for the privilege of entertaining us so.
We've prattled on for years about the lack of respect the players have for each other, but nothing ever seems to change. Why should it? The rules of the game are set up to reward the wicked, punish the noble or merely angry and remind everyone from the fans who watch in horror/adulation to the trainers and doctors that have to treat the victims that the NHL is in charge of the situation, knowing all the while that justice will not, and moreover, cannot be served.
And, more often than not, their response is exactly as Eric put in in the title of his post, "We don't care about you.'
Honestly, why should they? We keep watching and paying for tickets, hanging out in chat rooms, blogging, cheering and filling their coffers with the filthy lucre of bloodsport. While I don't believe that punishment systems work and that no matter how harsh you make the penalty to the player who performs the transgression, monetarily or otherwise, it won't stop the zero-sum game of a nobody knee-doctoring a star player, some fundamental change to the response structure of the game has to be made. Steve Moores and Randy Joneses are a dime a dozen in comparison to Patrice Bergerons and Pat LaFontaines; it's why they are paid orders of magnitude more money.
The NHL fell into the same trap that we as a society fell into, believing that we could legislate away the things about ourselves we didn't like; that we could use the power of a central authority to improve on the natural order created by people having to deal with each other directly when their rights have been violated. The Instigator Rule and the banning on bench-clearing brawling was supposed to bring peace and order to the proceedings, but in the end they've done just the opposite. What we have now is a league filled with cheap-shot artistes who then run and hide behind the linesmen and referees, toothlessly grinning from ear to cauliflower ear, knowing full well that the NHL, against everyone's better judgment, has instructed them to separate potential combatants the moment anything like that occurs. The league will deal with the problem, civilized people do not brawl in the streets.
If that model worked why do we have so much more crime and violence of an increasingly bizarre nature in our cities and towns? Why do I have to lock my doors at night, keeping my dogs outside? And, why do the cops now wear full body armor and face shields when my father (NYPD from 1958-82) only needed a polyester uniform, a six-shooter (which he barely ever used) and a nightstick to patrol the worst neighborhoods in one of the most violent cities in human history?
There is no excuse for what Scott Hartnell, Chris Neil, Jesse Boulerice, Brian Marchment, Colby Armstrong, Chris Pronger, Claude Lemieux, the venerated Scott Stevens or the myriad other players of cheap-shot-past did. If Darren Dreger's report about the responses from the players is accurate, then it seems to me that they are making the rational choice of being given the opportunity to defend themselves without hurting their team, because if the NHL is going to continue to refuse to figure out a way to protect them, then they'll have to do so themselves.
This is the first ray of sunlight that I've seen on this issue in the past 10 years and I can only hope that the players go to the mat with the NHL over it. At the very least, it will ensure that those who take the cheap shots (or liberties, in an ironic use of the term if I ever heard one) are the ones who will have to personally answer the bell for their actions. It's the crucial first step towards returning sanity to the game. Now, outlaw the body armor and we might have the beginnings of a solution.
But, nothing and I mean not-a-thing, will change if we as fans don't stand up and repudiate the over-the-top violence regardless of the crest on the chest and retain enough respect for ourselves to cheer on men who play the game in a way worthy of our admiration and not requiring our rationalization.