I write this article, as an unbiased fan. I write this, as someone who loves the sport of hockey. This first-round of the 2011 playoffs has been exciting, and nothing but dull. 6 of the 8 playoff series have gone at least 6 games. However, there is something amiss in the NHL.
I plan on using 3 examples in this situation.
First: Game 3 of the Vancouver vs Chicago series. Raffi Torres lines up Brent Seabrook behind the Chicago goal. Torres blatently hits Seabrook with an elbow to the head. Seabrook's head was turned as he was accepting a pass from his teamate. Seabrook left the game, and missed games 4 and 5. Torres recieves a 2 minute penalty for interference. Nothing else happens.
Second: Game 6 of the Buffalo vs Philadelphia series. Mike Richards pushes Tim Connolly, from behind, hard into the boards. Connolly leaves the game, doesn't return. Connolly is out for at least game 7, possibly longer. Richards clearly pushes Connolly, who was in a vulnerable position (much like Seabrook), headfirst into the boards. Richards serves a 2 minute penalty for boarding. Nothing else happens.
Third: Game 4 of the Boston vs Montreal series. Andrew Ference gives the middle finger to Montreal Canadians' fans after he scores a goal. Ference is fined $2500 by the NHL.
Now, to me, there is a serious injustice happening in the NHL. The message sent to the NHL players in this instance is simple. It is alright, to hit someone in a manner that will hurt them. Hitting is part of the game, yes. It is an essential part of the game. Every year, I'm reminded of that fact when I watch the NHL All-Star game, and watch the "All-Stars" skate around and play boring hockey. No one loves a good clean body check than I do. However, there are clean hits, and illegal hits. There is a large difference. The NHL has been talking about making a stand on illegal hits to the head, from behind, and hitting individuals in a vulnerable position. The NHL has an opportunity to send a message, but they fail to do so. They talk the talk, but refuse to walk the walk. However, heaven forbid that the players make a rude gesture.
I agree with the NHL's decision to fine Ference. They did the right thing. I wouldn't want to have my niece or children at that game, and have them see something like that. Ference should have been fined. I could even argue that Ference should have been fined more. But nothing happens for the illegal hits from Torres, Richards, and anyone else doing this in the NHL playoffs this season. So apparently, it must be ok. The consequences for these actions are not proportionate to the crime so to speak. Don't flip the bird, but go ahead and hit an individual in an illegal matter that could potentially hurt them. That's fine.
To all the remaining teams in this years' NHL playoffs, I offer this advice. If you see someone on the other team, hit them. Doesn't matter if they have the puck or if it's from behind. Heck, it doesn't matter if you hit him in the head. Go ahead and hurt someone! The NHL won't do a thing.
However, don't make any naughty gestures. The NHL won't tolerate it.