Monday, April 20, 2009

The Art of Fixing a Game

3a907280a3_lucic_04202009 Put aside for a moment the dramatic rise in temperature of my blood based on the news that my favourite Bruins player has been suspended for one game. Get the gist of it here: Milan Lucic gets1-game hit -

The actions of league vice-president Colin Campbell are curiously frustrating at best and the marked trappings of game rigging at worst. Sure coaches and GM’s were ‘warned’ that end of game shenanigans that were intended to ‘send a message’ to the other team were not going to be tolerated. Fair warning. So what!

I’m sorta with PJ Stock on this one. The game of hockey has changed but not necessarily in a good way. Increasing the regulation of the game has led to general lack of respectability in the game. Let’s try to understand the effectiveness of the league’s rules on the overall outcomes of the games. Penalty minutes have increased significantly overall. So too has the greasy chippy and pansy bottomed play of divers and hackers and cheap-shotters. It has begun to take on some of the unseemly aspects of Brazilian or Argentinean soccer tom-foolery. The game used be shaped by notions of respect which kept players in their respective roles.

If the regulatory effort has been to increase the opportunity for skill players like Ovechkin, Crosby, or Malkin to strut their stuff the playoffs at least have been a pretty poor showcase. If the these penalties and suspensions are intended to make the game more palatable to the a more PC audience – consider the ecstatic cheers of Blues fans every time one of their boys pounded Vancouver. If the motivation of these measures is to bring the game in line with other sports like basketball, baseball, or bowling (which up until recently received a greater TV market share than hockey in the USA) then we have another glaring problem: Hockey is not baseball, basketball or bowling – it is conceptually different.

Removing Lucic, Carcillo, et al. for one game is stupid. If this type of activity is really problematic send them off for the series or the entire playoffs – instead of forcing a team to make line-up changes in order to compensate for the ‘message’ the league wants to send. If Lucic is suspended why isn’t every other head shot being penalized similarly. Those of you who might try to argue that Lucic’s shot is somehow different than any other glove or stick to the head in behind the net scrum should consider that the only way one can make that qualitative difference is to impose highly subjective standards of judgement. LaPierre got it right when he said that the shot was a normal part of the game and he should know he’s handed out his fair share of similar shots.

What bothers me the most is that the game I loved as a younger person does not actually exist any longer. By saying that I am not appealing to the notion that a game should remain fixed in some nostalgic time frame. Changes need to be made – but ones that return the game to its original spirit. Hockey has always been a tough game – remember that it started outside on ICE! Efforts to extract that quality of the game should be discouraged. Hockey has always been an inventive game – both personally and corporately. It is this spirit of innovation that should be explored. Consider the difference that bigger ice surface would make to the game. It remains to be seen what creative coaches and players could do to make the game exciting. Instead while there is arguably more parity (a good thing) in the league there is also far more uniformity in style of play. And the outcomes of games are being decided on power plays which means that referees are determining the outcome of games.

In the end we are left with an impoverished game available to whimsical subjectivity that serves only to frustrate players and fans.

No comments: