clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

When the policemen fail to do the policing

Getty Images

"The reality of the matter is, Daniel Alfredsson is not in the lineup. So talk about reputation, talk about whatever you want to talk about, we don't have our captain," Konopka said. "That's killing us ... That's a tough pill for us to swallow.


"If I was on the ice, there would have been retribution," he said. "I know Wolski is a good guy but, at the end of the day, we still have to police ourselves a little bit."

--Ottawa Senators forward Zenon Konopka, on the NHL's decision not to suspend Wojtek Wolski for his headshot on Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

Earlier in the summer, I wrote of my growing disinterest in watching fighting in the NHL based on my belief that it exacts an undue (and largely ignored) price on those we ask to fight. I still feel that way. Fighting isn't instrumental to my enjoyment of hockey, and has actually become detrimental to it today.

In the conclusion of that article, I wrote of the need for the NHL to take real, meaningful action in preventing player injuries. This would order to remove the perceived need for NHL enforcers to take matters into their own hands and exact the kind of vigilante justice on opposing players that (supposedly) prevents them from taking liberties with teammates. It's why Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley spent ample time playing with Wayne Gretzky, to serve as a 'nuclear deterrent' keeping opponents from knocking the world's best player out with illegal shots the refs might have missed.

Today, there's no excuse for referees and disciplinarians missing a penalty. With two refs and two linesmen on the ice at all time, most infractions should be caught. Those few that aren't can be left up to league executives, the likes of Brendan Shanahan, to take supplemental action in order to ensure justice is served. At the start of the season, it looked like the league was really stepping up to the plate and holding players accountable, whether the hits looked intentional or accidental. Not anymore.

This all, of course, brings me to Brendan Shanahan's decision not to suspend Wojtek Wolski for his headshot on Daniel Alfredsson. His argument (as iterated in the video below, about five minutes in) was that Wolski didn't have a reputation as a dirty player, that Alfredsson wasn't paying enough attention, and that Alfredsson was impeding Wolski's path to get to where he needed to be. In essence, intent was the determinant: It was, in Shanahan's eye, an accident.

I don't buy it. Don't get me wrong, Wolski isn't a dirty player in any sense of the word. But look at the play: He sees Alfredsson coming, and instead of avoiding a potentially injurious incidental collision, he raises his elbow directly into contact with Alfredsson's head. Shanahan's decision implies that these plays are acceptable. They shouldn't be. They're not necessary in any way, and--at least in this instance--they result in serious injuries.

All of which brings me to my main point: This is a failure of the league to protect its players from unnecessary injuries. This disappoints fans. It certainly disappointed Alfredsson and Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray. And it disappoints Alfredsson's peers in the NHL, and makes them feel that if they're going to prevent opponents from taking liberties with their teammates, they're going to have to take matters into their own hands.

Or, more accurately, into their own fists.

That's what Konopka, in his quote at the top of this article, is saying--in exact terms. "We still have to police ourselves." Players feel this way because the NHL fails to make appropriate disciplinary decisions in order to make the game as safe as possible, without sacrificing the type of physicality we enjoy watching.

The NHL says a lot about preventing headshots and protecting players. Their actions belie their words.