Hockey violence, viewers on rise + 30 Thoughts | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaHockey violence, viewers on rise + 30 Thoughts

Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 10:27 AM

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Rich Peverley (49) of the Boston Bruins is checked into the corner boards by Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final at Verizon Center on Monday. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) Rich Peverley (49) of the Boston Bruins is checked into the corner boards by Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final at Verizon Center on Monday. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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The NHL is seeing record television ratings and intense buzz as the Stanley Cup playoffs swing between incredibly entertaining and completely out of control.

He played nine NFL seasons at linebacker for the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, winning one Super Bowl and going to the 2006 Pro Bowl. Not a bad career as an undrafted free agent for Antonio Pierce.

On Monday night, Pierce attended Game 3 of the Boston Bruins-Washington Capitals series and tweeted: "Had a blast at the NHL game last nite.. Hurts to say but more physical then the NFL...#sad."

These are strange days.

The NFL just negotiated a series of record-breaking TV deals. Yet frightened by a series of concussion lawsuits, it's trying to balance safety with pro football's inherent competitive brutality. Meanwhile, the NHL is seeing record television ratings and intense buzz as its playoff games swing between incredibly entertaining and completely out of control.

On Tuesday night, there was the potential for a worst-case scenario: Marian Hossa taken off the ice on a stretcher. Hours later, the Blackhawks announced they "anticipate a full recovery" -- thankfully.

Here we are at Hockey Night in Canada, very happy with more than two million viewers for Monday's Game 3 in Ottawa. Game 3 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia drew NBC the best U.S. television rating for any playoff game in a decade, excluding the Stanley Cup final. TSN opened that series with its best-ever number for a first-round game featuring two American teams.

Viewers weren't turning into the Penguin-Flyer games for intermission features about "The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County." And yet, there was no NHL release trumpeting these numbers (Checked with Steve Lepore, who covers this stuff on his Puck The Media blog.).

The league is rarely shy about this kind of thing, proud to point out when its various platforms are breaking new ground. Last week, it announced another season of record revenues, even though a labour stoppage looms on the horizon.

If you're a fan paying $200 for a ticket, $150 for a jersey, $20 to park and about $3 billion to eat at a game, you have to love that the players care as much as you do. These guys desperately want to win. There were times I wanted to get away from hockey last weekend, but the games were too good.

However, at this time of year, you move the line of what's acceptable one inch (Shea Weber) and they'll take a mile. Last weekend proved it. Unfortunately, Raffi Torres cemented it. I'm no puritan. I like a tough game and a good fight between those who can play. But the NHL has to be looking at its NFL brethren and worrying.

Hockey was actually first to start recording and analyzing concussion data, but football's taken the lead on radically changing the mindset of its players.

If you watch NFL telecasts, you'll hear plenty of people who share Antonio Pierce's opinion -- that the game's gone soft.

As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein: "Follow the money."

There is a website ( that tracks the status of retired player litigation against the NFL. It counts 59 different lawsuits filed against the league right now, involving more than 1,000 plaintiffs. (Estimates are at least three years before any go to trial).

Charles Robinson, a tremendous investigative reporter for Yahoo Sports, tweeted Monday that a "High ranking legal source w/strong ties 2 NFL owners says concussion litigation has grown into biggest financial threat in league history."

Could that happen to the NHL? If you think it can, ask yourself this question: If this is the kind of hockey your consumers want, can the league afford to be comfortable with it?

1. Raffi Torres is an easy suspension. Not a star. Repeat offender. He'll get hammered.

2. Joel Quenneville's in- and post-game meltdowns -- although justified -- will test Gary Bettman. Teams were warned not to criticize officiating during these playoffs. On the annual pre-playoff conference call, Bettman got on the line and warned of stiff fines if anyone lashed out at the zebras. One exec called it "The Tortorella Rule."

3. Thought Brendan Shanahan's three-game suspension for Andrew Shaw was fair (the league warned everyone about touching goalies), but the methodology showed why basing bans on injuries is a bad idea. You can't make a team wait two days for a ruling, especially when you're getting that close to game time. Concussions are unfortunately tricky. One minute, you think you can play, the next, you can't. Just ask David Perron.

4. Ottawa's doctors prevented Daniel Alfredsson from playing in Game 3, so he wrote "Do it for Family" on the greaseboard in the dressing room and went home. ("Family 2012" is the team's playoff motto.) It's easy to look from outside and say, "Alfredsson shouldn't risk it." But when you're 39 and you've never won, you don't know how long you have left and you're on a team with a chance, well, if you're honest with yourself, you know you'd want to play, too.

5. Didn't know teams that don't make the playoffs do not get access to press boxes during the post-season. Too much demand for seating. So it's much more difficult to scout potential free-agent or trade targets in person. "And this is the time of year you really want to see those players," said one scout. You can buy a ticket and try to do your work in the crowd, but that's not really efficient.

6. Barry Trotz to HNIC's Mark Lee before the playoffs began: "In the Western Conference, there will be no upsets. If the No. 8 seed [Los Angeles Kings] went to the Stanley Cup final, I wouldn't be surprised."

7. After the Vancouver Canucks went down 0-2 to the Kings, asked a player who'd been in that ditch -- and came back to win -- how his team did it. He said there are two things you can't do: wait for a lucky break (like, say, Nicklas Lidstrom scoring from centre); or expect someone else to make a difference. "Honestly, the thing I remember most is everyone thinking they were going to make the play that would change the series," he said. 

8. Kept that quote in mind watching Game 3 of Canucks-Kings. How many Canucks looked like they wanted to positively change things? What stood out was Henrik Sedin coming back on the ice for a 3:21 shift, including a power-play, after Dustin Brown clobbered him (legally).
9. A person on Twitter (and I'm honestly apologetic, I didn't write down his name) pointed out that Sedin shift was not the longest of this post-season. When Shawn Matthias took a high-sticking double-minor in Game 1 between the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk was on the ice for the entire power play. We're talking 4:01 (!). So far, there are 16 players who haven't skated that much in an entire playoff game.

10. At one Toronto practice, Ron Wilson told his players to "get ready for 'Drill 237.'" They didn't know what it was, so he told them to skate until he blew the whistle. One of them stayed on the ice for 2:37 the previous game (also through a power play) and, to make a point, he had the whole team go that long. Needless to say, they were exhausted because -- not knowing what Wilson was doing -- they started hard. I'm guessing Alain Vigneault and Peter DeBoer were a little more forgiving.

11. Another theory on why Alain Vigneault removed goaltender Roberto Luongo for Game 3? To put the heat on his players. In some ways, Luongo's become a built-in excuse -- he's the first one to get blamed, so it takes the spotlight off everyone else. If he's on the bench, the focus goes elsewhere.

12. Remember talking a year ago with Keith Yandle. He pointed out that you don't really realize how hard the NHL is until a good coach game-plans against you in a playoff series. For him, that was Mike Babcock. Brought that up to Babcock's former assistant, Paul MacLean, about Erik Karlsson. "Playoffs are about you against the other team ... you against your man ... for seven hard games. Who cracks first?" MacLean said. Win or lose, Karlsson will learn the same important lessons Yandle did.
13. Let's do some Pittsburgh/Philadelphia. Two weeks ago, an NHL general manager said that netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was the most important Penguin because he covered for a team that gave up a lot of chances. Boy, was that right. An NHL goalie coach: "He is lunging at the puck instead of letting it come to him," and "he is getting bothered by the Flyers' traffic in front and not tracking laterally." One player said he could tell Fleury lost confidence after Sean Couturier's tying goal in Game 2.

14. If you're the Penguins, you have to build Fleury up any way possible. Head coach Dan Bylsma backed him publicly. Privately, they should make him watch his save off Lidstrom at the end of the 2009 Stanley Cup final over and over and over again.

15. One scout: "Most teams have too much respect for Pittsburgh's talent and play safe. Philly is not in awe and is taking it to them. Forecheck, physical, no space, etc., which is exposing Pittsburgh's defensive shortcomings." He added that the Flyers are showing that defencemen Paul Martin and Kris Letang make mistakes under physical pressure.

16. One NHL coach: "All that talk [before the series] caused Pittsburgh to lose its focus ... I'm going to try that."

17. Would've been very easy to shield Sidney Crosby from a late-Tuesday media availability in Philadelphia (He spoke in Pittsburgh in the morning). But he was there two days after his "I don't like any of the Flyers" rant. When you're the captain and your team is down 0-3, you don't hide.

18. Braden Holtby's been a lifesaver in net for the Capitals after struggling through much of his AHL season. One theory? He was bored. Guess it happens, sometimes, with prospects who've had a taste of the NHL and feel they have nothing more to learn at the minor-league level.

19. One scout said he thought Washington's biggest challenge would be dealing with Milan Lucic: "They really don't have anyone on their roster who can handle him," although he later added Joel Ward had some potential for it. Lucic was in a self-imposed slumber for the first two games, but was much more active on Monday (although he took a bad penalty late in regulation). Will the Capitals regret waking him?

20. In case you missed The Hotstove, Glenn Healy reported the Oilers will keep the No. 1 overall draft pick. Nail Yakupov told Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun: "I definitely want to go to Edmonton and play for the Oilers, for sure."

21. Are the Oilers and Ryan Smyth headed into another disagreement? He was traded in 2007 as the two sides disagreed over $100,000 per season. There was a two-year offer from the team around the trade deadline -- probably no higher than $5 million total -- but went nowhere. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini said that,

as a free agent, Smyth "holds all the cards." Sounds like Edmonton isn't certain he's still a top-six forward. Does anyone really want to go down this road again?

22. In Calgary, Jarome Iginla's future obviously dominates the discussion, but Miikka Kiprusoff might be the real key to a retooling: no-move protection ends July 1; actual salary drops over next two years ($1.5 million in 2013-14); still playing at a high level, etc. Hotstove contributor Eric Francis says Calgary won't do it ... but will get tempting offers. That guy can make a difference.
23. Biggest question other teams have about the Flames is "Who is really calling the shots here?" Is it GM Jay Feaster, who wants legitimate change? Or is it ownership/president, which has resisted?

24. No list of Calgary coaching candidates is complete without Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. Feaster likes familiarity and Sullivan was on the Tampa bench when Feaster was GM there.

25. Here is the scoop on Maple Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire: He is telling people he is fed up with being made a scapegoat in Toronto and is considering retiring from the league to concentrate on his goalie school. The "scapegoating" is not coming from inside the organization as GM Brian Burke took pains to publicly defend him. Prominent goalie coaches who could be interested are Eli Wilson (Carey Price) and Andy Nowicki, who coached James Reimer in Red Deer, Alta.

26. The Winnipeg Jets had a small brush fire this week when a "fan" called media members with details about a conversation he claimed he had with head coach Claude Noel. One newspaper printed the story, featuring critical comments about the likes of Nik Antropov, Alexander Burmistrov and Jason Jaffray. If you ever want to know why sometimes people are rude to fans, well, this is it.

27. As for the quotes, the players themselves will know if they are accurate or not based on what's been said to them in the past. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff probably had to speak to a few agents. Asked one (clients not involved) what he would do. He said that in some of the worst cases, if he believed it to be true, he'd ask for a trade.

28. Montreal's coaches have one year left on their contracts and have been told no decision will be made about their future until the next GM is hired.

29. The Canadiens know they're not getting Jim Nill. But it's pretty smart to ask to talk to him, if only to pick his brain.

30. A lot of complaints in Buffalo that Sabres owner Terry Pegula kept both GM Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff. But while it maybe 15 years in Buffalo for them, it's only one full season with the new owner. To Pegula, the clock restarted when he bought the team.

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