A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a couple of current and former players. They started talking about blindside hits. One said, "I think most players would love to get rid of them." Another responded, "Most? Try 95 per cent."
I was thinking about that the other day, as Niklas Hjalmarsson kayoed Jason Pominville. It wasn't a brutal headhunting, but it was careless - an ugly exclamation point on a bizarre holiday weekend. George Thorogood sang about One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer. The NHL had One Stretcher, One Arrest and One Obscene Gesture.
The reaction was predictable. Some fans and analysts said there should be no suspension. Others argued for public flogging. Colin Campbell decided upon two games. As usual, everyone disagreed. (Biggest surprise: Hjalmarsson didn't get at least three, so Saturday's rematch doesn't turn into a fiasco.)
Other than that, the story remains the reaction of the teams involved.
Tuesday morning, hours before Campbell announced his verdict, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller unleashed on the Chicago defenceman.
'We need to change the culture': Miller
"No matter badly Hjalmarsson feels, it's still an illegal hit, it still put our guy out and it's still suspendable in my mind," the Sabres' goaltender told reporters. (I'm lifting this from The Buffalo News.) "It absolutely needs to be punished. I don't care if it's unintentional. That's what we need to get away from in hockey right now, the culture of it where, 'I was trying to make a play, therefore it's not my fault.'
"A hockey hit is to separate a man from the puck, not anticipating the puck getting there, hitting him from behind and driving him into the boards. So you have two things right there: The puck wasn't completely there, it was anticipation of it, there's no separation and it's a hit from behind.
"It's completely something where I don't know if enough was made of it because Jason is walking out with just stitches. What if Jason has a fractured neck? We don't even know if it's going to have an impact with concussion, so I just think no matter how badly Hjalmarsson feels, no matter if it's unintentional, we have to change the culture of it if we're ever going to change the situations we're seeing, where guys are laying on the ice bleeding and missing time with concussions. It's completely an unnecessary play.
"I'm glad he admitted to it and didn't need to do it, but you've got to change the culture sometime, and I hope the league wakes up and sets a precedent for the year."
Now, that is an outstanding rant. Miller, one of the game's most insightful quotes, clinched his spot on the all-interview team with 79 games to go. There's no easier day to be a reporter.
But you know what would be even more impressive? If Miller said it when teammate Patrick Kaleta - who has a much worse reputation than Hjalmarsson - crushed Jared Ross or Paul Kariya last season. Kaleta was suspended two games for the Ross hit. He didn't get anything for the other one, but it is believed that collision led to Kariya's decision to sit out this season with post-concussion syndrome.
We all know that isn't going to happen, but Miller isn't alone. The Blackhawks rushed to Hjalmarsson's defence after Monday's game.
Head coach Joel Quenneville: "You could argue if it was even a penalty. He wasn't looking at the guy, [he] was playing the puck ... But the hit, there was no intent at all." (All of the Chicago quotes come from ESPN.com.)
"Everything happened so fast, but I thought it was shoulder to shoulder," Hjalmarsson said. "My intention wasn't to hurt him...I didn't think I was going to be kicked out of the game but it is what it is."
Double standard at play?
Hmmmmmn ... sounds similar to this: "It was not a hard hit. I just wanted to push him. I don't think it has to be five minutes or anything like that. I just felt bad."
If you guessed Alexander Ovechkin without having to phone a friend, tell Regis you're going for the million. That's right, it was Ovechkin's quote after flattening Brian Campbell.
At the time, the Blackhawks weren't feeling so charitable. Quenneville: "It was a tough hit, a dangerous hit."
Hjalmarsson: "I hope the league will take a good look at that. That's a situation where you really hurt yourself. I hope they take a good look at that and suspend him for a couple of games."
Wish granted. Ovechkin got two. Irony of ironies, so did Hjalmarsson.
Look, we all know what's going on here. It's the NHL way to stand up for a teammate, and there is something very admirable in that. The Blackhawks' special chemistry is a major reason they are the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
This isn't limited to players and coaches. GMs, presidents and owners all lobby the league with a "How does this affect me?" mentality. If their guy is injured, it's "Off with his head!" If their guy is guilty? "It's just a flesh wound" or "the other guy's was worse!"
But the next time a team is victim to a careless/dirty hit, careful with the outrage. History shows it's hard to take these complaints seriously.
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