Every Friday, a trio of SI.com staffers sits down for a discussion of the hockey world’s hot-button issues. This week, Michael Blinn, Sam Page and Al Muir discuss the NHL's exoneration of Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson's diminishing play, next year’s slate of outdoor games, and the league's inconsistent response to head shots.
The NHL this week officially closed its investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Patrick Kane, but does its exoneration come too late? Can his reputation be salvaged at this point?
Sam Page: Can his reputation be salvaged? Of course—just look at Kobe Bryant’s current retirement tour. I think I said something similar before the season, but whatever your opinion of Patrick Kane, nothing that happened during this season was going to change your mind—this statement from the league included. If anything, the release will further divide opinion. If you are a fan, you might take this exoneration on its face as proof he was innocent all along. If you’re suspicious of Kane, you’ll likely be annoyed the league would even take a stance on his innocence.
Michael Blinn: I think you hit this one squarely on the head, Sam. Folks seems to have dug their heels in one way or the other and there’s not a whole lot of room for debate between them. As for his reputation, I suppose that depends which side of the hill you’re on, but I do think there’s going to be a large contingent of people who will always be there to remind others of his past—and that’s not a bad thing. The league, however, probably did more damage to its own image than it did anything, positive or negative, to Kane‘s with that poorly worded release.
Al Muir: I've seen the criticism of that release and I don't buy it. I'm not sure what some were expecting, but the league's stance seems to be right in concert with the results of the criminal investigation, including the use of the word "unfounded." And since the evidence suggests that Kane committed no crime, then it's time for people to stop treating him as a criminal, or worse, as an avatar for an insidious social problem. Will that happen? Probably not. Like you said, Mike, most opinions already are set in stone. But given what we know that's what he deserves.
Should there be a mandatory penalty for head contact?
SP: No. The league can’t create a situation in which a player gets punished because an opponent put his head down. I’m ready for extreme measures to cut down on concussions, but at a certain point you begin to incentivize sloppy play and it does more harm than good. Imagine someone skating head-first in an attempt to draw a penalty at a crucial moment in a game. I think all the non-incidental types of head contact can be covered by the existing rules.
AM: There's too much old-school, "hey, it's incidental contact" wiggle room built into the system. Sam's right. Zero tolerance probably wouldn't work. But I think the inclination has to lean towards making the call on any incident of head contact, with some room for lenience if a player's own actions make him liable for that contact. You'll never legislate it out of the game, but there's room to increase player safety here. Time for the league to step up.
The SI Extra Newsletter Get the best of Sports Illustrated delivered right to your inbox
Erik Karlsson has played 30 minutes or more in 10 of his past 15 games. Is this well-considered usage of an elite workhorse or an act of desperation by Senators coach Dave Cameron?
MB: Can’t it be both? The Senators are fighting for a playoff spot, so why not get your best player on the ice as much as you can? Especially when he’s one of the NHL’s top players when it comes raking in points (1.00/game, fifth best) and creating goals (0.33 per game, 19th). The team needs all the offense it can get with goalie Craig Anderson having seen more rubber (1,677 shots against) and given up more goals (140) than any other netminder this season while ranking 10th in minutes played. Cameron’s job is to get his team into the postseason, and Karlsson is the best weapon in his limited arsenal.
The guy is clearly worn out. That's on Cameron, who seems to think that 25 minutes of A play and five minutes of C+ play from Karlsson is better for the Sens than 25 minutes of A+ play.
The NHL has announced four outdoor games for next season. Cool, or too much of a good thing?
SP: I don’t see why there needs to be more than the one. I tried watching the Red Wings-Avalanche Stadium Series game and the ice was clearly a problem. It was very sloppy. I wish the novelty hadn’t worn off for me, but I just can’t get excited for these games anymore. Maybe if it were during a blizzard or something I’d tune in.
MB: You know what’s better than novelty, Sam? Nostalgia. It seems to me that the alumni games have grabbed the most traction and filled the stadiums almost as well as the main events. Give me the old-timers lacing them up and strapping them on again while being as quotable as ever. Give me a North Stars jersey and an old-school Jason mask and I'm happy.
AM: Look ahead to next year's schedule. What are you more excited about: the current Jets and Oilers squaring off for two points outdoors or Wayne Gretzky and friends taking on Teemu Selanne and the Jets alumni? That probably says something about the maturing nature of these events, at least from the national perspective. But at the same time, there's no denying that these games remain a huge draw for the teams involved. Toronto, St. Louis and Winnipeg all are hosting for the first time, and you can bet there'll be real excitement in those markets leading up to those events. And even if the Maple Leafs-Red Wings outdoor game isn't the massive TV draw it might have been a couple years ago, it'll still be much more attractive to the average fan than just another game at the Air Canada Centre. These things are still winning propositions, even if the scale of their success has diminished a bit. I say keep 'em coming.