At one of our typically rowdy shoutfests/meetings the other day, I raised the concept of teams that, year-after-year, sustain an inordinate amount of injuries and, naturally, the Carolina Hurricanes were the jumping-off point.
Now some of this is bad luck – when Justin Williams ruptures his Achilles tendon or Frantisek Kaberle fractures his foot while blocking a shot, there’s nothing you can do to prevent those (other than adding better protection to skates in Kaberle’s case, but that’s an issue for another day). On the other hand, it seems as though at least once a season, some Cane is rubbed out in a controversial fashion and team toughness is called into question.
From Erik Cole to Brandon Sutter, Carolina has lost players thanks to opposing teams and watching Toronto’s Jeff Finger blast Ryan Bayda past the Leafs’ goalmouth last night without anyone sticking up for the young Cane, it seems pretty clear the word is out that you can do what you will against the Red and Black.
Detroit is another team famous for their Gandhi-like play. In fact, it was part of their very successful Stanley Cup-winning strategy; never retaliate. Last season, the Red Wings were the least penalized team in the league. Carolina was actually middle-of-the-pack in both PIMs and fighting majors, though many of those majors belonged to Wade Brookbank, who, according to hockeyfights.com, usually came out on the wrong end of the decision.
The Red Wings, it should also be pointed out, felt rising star forward Johan Franzen was targeted during the playoffs by teams who knew he was coming back from concussion-like symptoms.
But this is no clear-cut thesis I’m putting together here. As any erstwhile reader will note, both the Wings and Canes have Stanley Cup rings since the lockout. Clearly, this perceived lack of toughness has just been water off a duck’s back, assuming it isn’t one of those ornery Ducks from Anaheim.
So here’s the thing: As a team, do you want to win a Cup as a brawny juggernaut, a group of nasty renegades who take care of their own? Or are you willing to have a comrade or two picked-off along the way, knowing he’ll still get to hoist the ultimate trophy, even if he’s wearing street clothes as he does it?
Hockey will always be a game of both skill and brute force; at its best, the two meet in the middle. Head shots are bad, but so is keeping your head down when you come through the middle. And the game doesn’t belong to Henrik Zetterberg any more or less than it did to Eddie Shore or Gordie Howe.
Even the globalization of the game hasn’t stopped the tone of the league – some of the newer fighters of note include David Koci and Boris Valabik, both born and raised in the Czech Republic.
Will tough play and fighting hold back the growth of the sport? I don’t know. I’ve talked to people in “non-traditional markets” who were attracted by the rough play and those same places are now producing top-notch offensive prospects, not goons.
For me it’s a moot point anyway. The game has been played with a physical edge for as long as anyone can remember and that’s the sport we all fell in love with in the first place. Teams that choose to ignore the malice of their opponents do so at their own risk.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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