SANTA CRUZ, October 22, 2013 — As medical staff were wheeling a motionless Dan Boyle off the ice in St. Louis Tuesday night, the first question on everybody’s mind was: “What was Maxime Lapierre thinking?” The second was: “What is he still doing in the National Hockey League?”
We get it. Hockey is a collision game played at an incredibly high speed. Players are going to hit each other, often with unpredictable results, but there must be a line that players do not cross. There has been a clear mandate from the NHL that, if a player can see the number on the back of an opponents sweater, they need to ease up on the check. This is especially true if the exposed player is facing the boards, as Boyle was Tuesday night.
While the league has taken steps to eliminate thugs and goons from the league, there still exist some shady players who, for whatever reason, continue to find work. Lapierre is in this class. He has built a reputation as a dirty player and a cheap shot artist, but he is able to skate and play the game well enough to get third line minutes everywhere he has played. To call him an energy player is a stretch. He hits late, he hits cheap, he chirps and threatens opposing players and, when he is challenged, he turtles, his gloves glued to his hands.
Most players believe that, while the game can be vicious and hard fought, there must exist some base level of respect for each other. Nobody wants to see another player seriously hurt because everyone has played with almost everybody else at some point in their hockey lives. The majority play hard and give no quarter, but they are not out to end anybody’s career.
It is hard to comprehend the repeated dirty play of players like Lapierre, Raffi Torres, Patrick Kaleta, and others. Surely the mounting suspensions, fines, detriment to their teams with stupid penalties, and extra scrutiny each game from referees and league officials ought to be enough to incite an adjustment to their game, but they continue right where they left off each time. It is the absolute definition of insanity.
When players like Lapierre run around, they are inevitably challenged by somebody on the opposing team. When they refuse to answer the bell, it is left to the on-ice officials to mete out punishment and, if they miss the infraction, the league has to subsequently review the incident and rule after the fact. The league can crack down on these repeat offenders as often as they want, it appears to have little effect on this group.
Perhaps what is needed is a no return policy after a predetermined number of similar infractions. A life time ban could finally shock these players into reality. Under the current structure, players are fined and suspended and then allowed back into the league. While the NHL does its best, the post-incident suspensions often come off as arbitrary. Two identical hits might garner entirely different suspensions, leaving players unsure of what the standard is.
The NHL is being forced to adjust to a changing world and an evolving game on the ice and it has met these various challenges well. The next hurdle it faces will be to weed dangerously reckless players out, and the only option left is to institute a lifetime ban. These players must understand that playing in the NHL is a privilege, and that the game and the people who play it ought to be treated with respect.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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