NHL too late, as usual, heading off possible Bruins-Penguins mayhem
Because the hockey gods have a wicked sense of humor, the 1970 Stanley Cup champions -- a.k.a. the Big Bad Bruins -- are being honored at the new Garden in Boston prior to the game Thursday between the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins -- a.k.a. Armageddon on Ice.
This match, of course, is the reprise of the last Bruins-Penguins game in which
Now, the current iteration of the Bruins is not especially big (with the exceptions of
There were, however, extenuating circumstances regarding Boston's, um, measured response that have not received enough attention.
For one thing, the only Bruins player on the ice who even got a half-look at the predatory play was winger
Another factor is that the hit came at 14:23 of the third period, and the ensuing shift extended into the final five minutes. Any ruckus the Bruins might have started would have carried a suspension for an instigator and fines for the coach.
Instead of playing the vigilante, the Bruins reacted mostly like adults and trusted the NHL justice system. To borrow from
So what to do on Thursday with those sandpaper-tough old Bruins in the house looking on?
The intelligent answer, of course, is: nothing crazy.
Boston is trying to fend off the New York Rangers for eighth in the East, a loftier ambition than applying after-the-fact frontier justice aimed at Cooke or, more tellingly, at a Penguins star like
The Bruins already had lost their identity this season as a tough team to play against, and defenseman
Pittsburgh could help defuse the matter by not dressing Cooke in Boston, but then a self-imposed time-out should never have been necessary. NHL vice-president for violence
Campbell's decision to give Cooke a pass was not an example of dartboard justice. An honorable man, Campbell leaned on precedent to make his non-ruling on Cooke. If he hadn't suspended Philadelphia's
The problem: Campbell chose to invoke the wrong precedent on the very day that NHL GMs agreed to a rule that will punish blindside hits.
In November, Campbell suspended Calgary's
Timing is everything, and the NHL hockey operations department was at least a stride behind the play. The Richards hit on Booth finally turned enough GMs' minds, and maybe stomachs, that they finally addressed at least one element of head shots, however open-ended and timorously. The Cooke hit seemed to have had the same kind of effect on hockey fans, who were as sickened by seeing Savard wheeled off on a stretcher as they were by Campbell's ruling.
The NHL had one chance to make a first impression, and now everything else is catch-up because of an unwillingness to punish Cooke and rush through the proposed rule change instantly.
Yes, there are procedures. The proposed rule change has to go to the competition committee and on to the Board of Governors before it can be implemented. (Last season, the players on the competition committee, who did not think the GMs were taking the issues of headshots seriously, balked at their proposal about so-called staged fights.) But there was an opening for NHL Commissioner
On the subject of precedents, well, Bettman could have found those. In late August 2008,
The truth is, the NHL always has lagged behind the play on the issue of head injuries. Some 15 years ago, a senior NHL official argued that baseline neuropsychological testing -- tests measuring cognitive function that initially establish a baseline for each player and allow medical personnel to help determine whether he is fit to return to the ice after a concussion -- was too expensive to make obligatory. The cost to a team: an extra $150 to $200 per player per test. A few years and who knows how many concussions later, baseline neuro-psych tests became an NHL fixture.
If the NFL finally could sort out hits to the head, the NHL can. The first thing it needs is a more steely will and a functioning Players Association to dig deeper on safety issues.
The second is a deadline -- say before the puck drops in Boston a little after seven o'clock Thursday night.