If you were NHL commissioner for a day, what would you change? That’s always a conversation starter between hockey fans.
My pet peeve of the season is about the league being too tolerant with bullies. Bullies in this case being players who start fights with opponents who have no interest in dropping the gloves.
A recent example happened Saturday night when the Edmonton Oilers visited the Calgary Flames. Closing in on a loose puck in the corner, Calgary’s Lee Stempniak decked Edmonton defenseman Andrew Ference to the ice with a 100 percent clean shoulder-to-shoulder check.
Ference was clearly disturbed that he was outmuscled in his own end by an opponent in his same weight class (5-foot-11, 190-ish pounds). He skated over to Stempniak, tried to engage a fight, then dropped his gloves and started punching. Stempniak had no interest in fighting and was held back from trying to return to the play. After taking a few punches to the face, Stempniak fell to the ice and emerged with a bloody chops and spitting out a displaced tooth.
Nice work Ference. Very classy. Bet you feel great about yourself for doing that. Whatever happened to the age-old notion of getting the guy's numbers and returning the favor with a clean hit the next battle for a loose puck? I guess it's easier being a bully.
The two players got five minutes each for fighting and Ference got an extra two for roughing. In my mind, that’s not enough. I’d implore the league to investigate bullying cases such as these and issue supplementary discipline. Thuggery like that shouldn’t be permitted. Say what you want about the dancing bears out on the ice and their scripted fights, but at least they both willing participants.
Punching an opponent simply because he got the better of you on a hockey play should not be tolerated. An extra two minutes is not nearly enough. It’s far more damaging to the game than scripted fights.
Also on Saturday, Buffalo’s Steve Ott interrupted his hockey playing by standing in front of Toronto’s David Clarkson and not leaving until he got a fight. Clarkson tried to resist, but in the end had no choice. The most classic example of this was Philadelphia’s Ray Emery dragging Washington’s Braden Holtby into a fight earlier this month.
Is the league waiting for this banal type of bullying to turn into an epidemic before doing something about it? Is it turning a blind eye to it, saying simply hockey players will be hockey players. Does the NHL prefer players handle matters themselves in the form of retaliation? (In this case, the Flames did nothing to Ference, even though Brian McGrattan was in the Calgary lineup.)
Western society is finally putting a spotlight on the ugly warts of bullying in our school system. It’s time the league did the same with its constituents.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN