Pens-Bruins Showdown Could Get Messy

There
Will Be Blood

All eyes will be on Boston Thursday night when the
Bruins host the Pittsburgh Penguins. This
will be the first meeting between these two teams since Matt Cooke’s head shot
to Boston’s Marc Savard
which has most likely ended the Boston center’s season.

The league’s failure to suspend Cooke or take any
substantial disciplinary action against him leaves the door wide open for
Thursday’s game to be an old fashioned brawl. Look for Boston players like
Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic to go after Cooke early and often during the
game.

Let’s hope that Cooke obliges the Bruins and gets
the obligatory fisticuffs over with early. 
If not, the potential for an ugly and dirty game exists and things could
really get out of hand. 

Mike Richards acted appropriately when he agreed to
drop the gloves with Florida‘s David Booth earlier this month when Booth faced the Flyers
for the first time after Richards injured him with a head shot in October. Booth did not return to the lineup until the
final day of January.  Unfortunately,
Savard isn’t available to drop the gloves yet so it remains to be seen which
Boston player will seek revenge.

Just to make things more interesting, the Bruins
will be honoring the 40th anniversary of the 1970 Stanley Cup
championship team before Thursday’s game.That group, known as the “Big Bad
Bruins,” was a cohesive unit who stuck up for each other on and off the ice and
was known for dishing out punishment to opponents. Five members of that team ended the season
with more than 100 penalty minutes including stars like Bobby Orr and Derek
Sanderson. This will only make the
pre-game atmosphere more intense.

Failure
to Suspend

The league’s excuse that Cooke didn’t violate any present
rules so he could not be suspended rings hollow. Twice the league has acted recently to either
suspend a player or change a rule on the spot when none was violated. Of course, both times, the player involved
was Sean Avery, the man nearly everyone in the league loves to hate. 

The league changed the rules literally overnight for
Avery during the 2008 playoffs. Avery
waived his stick in Martin Brodeur’s face in attempt to screen the Devils
goalie.  There was nothing against it in
the rule book, but the league announced that if Avery (or anybody else)
repeated his behavior, he would be given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Last season while Avery was playing for the Dallas
Stars
, the NHL suspended Avery for rude comments he made about an opposing
player’s girlfriend to the press. Was
Avery’s behavior crude and thoughtless? 
Sure. Was that the first time hockey players engaged in verbal sparring
with opponents both on and off the ice? 
Not by a long shot. The league
took matters into its own hand and suspended Avery. 

The league could have suspended Cooke for intent to
injure without changing the rules but elected not to do so. 

Avery’s actions last year were bad PR for the
league, but they didn’t put anybody’s health in danger. Head blows like Cooke’s also make the league
look bad, but they also run the risk of causing significant injuries to
players.

Now there is talk that the league and the NHLPA will
agree to implement the rule against blind side head shots before the end of
this season. This is something the
league and the players union should be able to agree upon and put in place
right away.  It is good for the players
and good for the league’s image. The
sooner the new rule can be put into place, the better.

Playoff
Proposals

Spring is finally in the air and that can only mean
one thing for hockey fans: the playoffs are almost here. The Islanders organization introduced the
idea of a “play-in” tournament at the recent GM meetings which would amend the current
playoff system. The proposal would have
the teams ranked 8-15 in their respective conferences play in a one game
elimination round robin to determine the final playoff spot.  In essence, every team would qualify for the
playoffs in some way.

Thankfully, the idea didn’t gain much traction with the league’s GMs. It would
be a major step back for the league if it passed. 

For years, the NHL has been criticized because too
many teams made the playoffs. In the
days of the Original Six, four of six teams qualified for the postseason. After the 1967 expansion, eight of the
league’s 12 teams qualified.

It moved to
an all-time low after the addition of the four former WHA teams in 1979. At that point, each NHL team played 80
regular season games so five clubs could be eliminated from the playoffs. More than 76 percent of the teams in the
league moved on and the regular season was rendered almost meaningless. 

Now, 16 of the league’s 30 teams make the postseason
(or 53.3 percent) which is the same rate as the NBA. Compare this to 37.5 percent of NFL teams and
26.7 percent of Major League Baseball clubs. To increase the number now would just be counterproductive.

The potential for abuse of the new round robin
tournament is also great. Teams in the
bottom half of the standings would be in no rush to play injured players during
the regular season, since they would still have to play in the “play-in”
tournament. The result would be that
fans would see less of the better players on struggling teams. The intensity of
the regular season would be further reduced (if that’s possible) and we would
likely see more blowouts in late season games when top teams face bottom
dwellers since the teams in the lower half of the standings would have little
incentive to improve their situation once they know they won’t be in the top
seven in the conference standings.

As for the playoffs, the system is fine as it
is.

The bottom line is there already is
a play-in for the playoffs: it’s 82 games long and it’s called the regular season.

A Save On Versus

Finally, what a relief that the dispute between
Versus and DirecTV has been settled. The channel has been restored to the same
tier of sports programming that it was on before service was interrupted. And to think, it took more than six months to
come to an agreement when it only should have taken six hours.

At least fans on
DirecTV will be able to see a lot more playoff games. Game on!

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