When it comes to rank hypocrisy, you have to hand it to Bob Clarke.
No, really – you have to hand it to him, or he’ll take a baseball swing with his hockey stick and break your ankle.
How hilarious was it watching Clarke rip into Sean Avery (on TSN’s Off The Record) the other day? About as hilarious as it would be if Barry Bonds went off on the bodybuilding community for employing non-natural improvement methods. About as hilarious as it would be if Mariah Carey mocked dolphins for their glass-shattering squeals.
Watching Avery become the biggest boogeyman in hockey is almost as funny. The guy openly admits his act is just that – an act – yet he’s still got the game’s upper crust sneering down as if he were beneath their contempt.
"There's always been players who are characters in this game," Clarke told Off The Record on Wednesday. "You may not like them, but they're character guys and character players and they bring something to the game. Avery takes from the game."
This, from the gentleman who took Russian superstar Valeri Kharlamov from the game during the legendary 1972 Summit Series.
Just try to comprehend the amount of rationalization required for Clarke to arrive at the conclusion that his heinous assault on Kharlamov was proper, but Avery waving a stick in the face of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur or uttering an untoward remark about somebody – well, that’s simply beyond the pale.
“He's (Avery) making a fool of the game,” said Clarke, whose lengthy feud with Eric Lindros when both were key employees of the Flyers brought nothing but honor to the game. “He crosses the line all the time. He's an idiot. And if the referees see him giving it to Brodeur like he did in the playoffs – yapping, yapping, yapping – it's pre-meditated.
“Give him a penalty. You'll end it right away. If not, I think one of the Devils should come to Brodeur's aid. Drill him, punch him, make him fight. If he wants to be a yapper, make him fight.”
To recap: Psychological warfare in the NHL = verboten. Forcing somebody to fight in the NHL = not only acceptable, but encouraged.
Is it any wonder the league that’s made Clarke famous is virtually guaranteed to have at least one horrifically violent on-ice incident every season? Should anyone be mortified to see the game devolve to the point where, as my colleague Ken Campbell noted, you can���t even lay a solid, clean hit on a player without expecting to be punched in the mouth for it?
Of course not. For the entire history of the NHL, the inmates have been allowed to run the asylum – and the end result is the only professional sports operation that sells and condones knee-jerk retribution and a cavalier disregard for an opponent’s well-being ahead of skill.
Ergo, a lunkhead like Ryan Hollweg is afforded the benefit of the doubt from the league despite repeated transgressions, while a solid citizen such as Mike Peca gets handed a five-game suspension for touching an official.
The last time I appeared on OTR, I heard every other panelist mention how much they’d love to have a guy like Hollweg on their team, because he’d do anything to win.
Apparently, “doing anything” to win doesn’t include “saying anything” to win. And that’s why the convoluted code that governs this game is so preposterous – and, yes, hilarious; the big boys who are supposedly such tough hombres get their widdle feewings hurt when somebody calls them a name, forcing them to lash out in a manner that would put them behind prison bars were they to do so on any other portion of the planet.
Sean Avery is the embodiment of evil? Puh. Lease.
“He goes way too far,” Clarke said of Avery. “It's up to (Stars co-GMs) Brett Hull and Les Jackson to stop him because it's an embarrassment to hockey.”
An embarrassment, Bob? I don’t think so. The embarrassment is that anybody in the NHL who shows the slightest hint of a personality – and who won’t be shoved into silence – is considered an embarrassment.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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