Thursday, January 18, 2007

Special to TMFB... by the REAL Caps Nut:

Media and the Instigator Rule: XM Show Leaves Me Annoyed.

Over the past three trips to work (two in the morning and one in the evening), I had the supposed pleasure of finding "In the Slot", a hockey program carried on Home Ice XM. According to what information I could find on the net, this program, hosted by a Mr. Todd Lewis and co-hosted by the immortal Phil Espisito. The show airs weekdays from 3PM-6PM with replays on weekdays 3AM-6AM. Originally I thought I was blessed to find a radio program dedicated to hockey that would fill my 45 minute commute to and from work. And based on the replay times, it seemed initially that I would catch a significant portion of each show between my morning and afternoon commute. The future looked bright to say the least. Or so I thought.
While I must admit that it was refreshing to hear nonstop discussions on recent and upcoming games and to hear specific stories of yesteryear as remembered by Mr. Espisito, my ability to stomach Mr. Lewis quickly came into question. I found myself praying for the next caller to be aired or to hear some highlights from last nights games. I found myself searching the 150+ channels of XM in order to hopefully find something that would exceed my interest in hockey radio ............ especially bad hockey radio. Now, please take my comments with a grain of salt as 1) I understand I only caught a portion of one show and 2) I found myself disagreeing with Mr. Lewis on several occasions of this particular show. While I am not in the business of banishing any program from my channel lineup after just one airing, I must admit that I will be listening to him for the same reason many Democrats tune into Rush Limbaugh ........... to see what he will say that will be annoying.
My biggest qualm (amongst several) stemmed from a caller who wanted to discuss the new "instigator" rule. For those not aware of the specifics of this penalty (refer to rule 56), the league has now stated that any player deemed the "instigator" of a fight will be issued a 2 minute minor penalty (creating a power play for the opponent should no other "matching minors" be issued), a 5 minute major penalty and a 10 minute misconduct penalty. This applies to any time frame prior to the 5 minutes remaining point of the game (55 minutes of regulation play). In sense, a player deemed an "instigator" is issued 17 minutes in penalties and is not available to his team for that entire length of time. More specifically, an amendment to this rule was added in 2005-2006 that states that any player deemed an instigator in an altercation within the last 5 minutes of regulation play will be issued the above mentioned 17 minute penalty package AND given an automatic one game suspension (which is not subject to appeal by player or team). Furthermore, the coach of the "instigating" player will be issued an automatic $10,000 fine. Both the suspensions and the fines will then double for each subsequent incident.
So what does this say to the teams of the NHL? Obviously, the message is clear - don't instigate a fight or the repercussions of your actions will be harsh. More importantly, under no circumstances, do not instigate a fight within the last 5 minutes of the game or else you will be automatically suspended and your coach will be fined heavily. How do players react to this issue? Simple - they don't react. They don't respond. They let things go unanswered. They let dirty and cheap plays go unpunished. They let dirty and cheap players continue to do the things that have earned them their "dirty" and "cheap" reputations. Why? Because the league has taken away players ability to "police" themselves. An action that NHL players have prided themselves on since the inception of the game. Players fear the repercussions of sticking up for their teammates or for confronting a player who has been taken liberties with a star player. Players don't want to risk hurting their team by receiving an extra minor penalty which would give their opponent a power play. They don't want to risk being given a 10-minute misconduct and causing their team to play with a short bench. They also, and more importantly, do not want to risk being suspended for a game or taking cash out of their coaches pocket. Personally, I can't find a quicker way to get on a coach's bad side then costing him money. It's a sure fire why to end up benched even if the cause was legitimate. Money is still money and $10,000 is a lot of coin to part with.
Getting back to my initial point, the caller clearly stated he felt that the league should do away, or modify, the current instigator policy. He felt that under its current definition, it allowed dirty players (he named Joordin Tootoo) an unrestricted opportunity to do what has earned them their reputation - especially during the last 5 minutes of a game. While I enjoy watching a Tootoo type player play as he is willing to hit anything at any time, I can certainly appreciate his "known" reputation and can acknowledge that he isn't on many players Christmas card list. And, specific to this caller, I must say I agree with him 100%. The current definition of the rule allows players to head hunt or use their stick as a weapon without much worry of retribution. Players no longer have to worry about the other team sending out one of their tougher guys to make him answer for his dirty play. They know that the penalties enforced by the NHL are too severe and many players won't risk hindering their team either by manpower shortage or by costing them money.
Surely, I understand that players/teams can "step across the picket line" but history has shown that the NHL doesn't care about the surrounding circumstances and the reasons for the infraction. A perfect example can be made of the Thrashers vs. Capitals game over the Thanksgiving holiday where a dirty hit by Atlanta defenseman Andy Sutton with less then 90 seconds left in an already decided game enraged the Washington Capitals players. Sutton, who already engaged in some late game dirty play in previous meetings with the Caps went head hunting on young forward Mike Green who was skating along the boards. The Caps responded as any team should - as any fan of old time hockey would expect - by sending out a couple of their tough guys for the next shift to make the message clear to Atlanta that they would not tolerate such blatant and dangerous play. The result was 5 fights in the remaining 90 seconds of the game that ended up costing the Washington Capitals several man-games in suspensions and cost their coach Glen Hanlon $30,000 in fines. As a fan of the Capitals - it was refreshing to see hockey being played how it's supposed to be played - with emotion, grit and intensity. I was thrilled with how the Capitals responded and willingly handled their business, fully knowing the upcoming fines and suspensions. As a fan of old time hockey, I was thoroughly disappointed though as I reflected on how other teams aren't willing to take such matters into their own hands out of fear of the leagues new penalties. They are being handcuffed by the new NHL and its letting too much go unpunished.
Mr. Lewis didn't seem to understand it or didn't seem interested in acknowledging that there is a direct correlation between this new instigator rule and dirty plays in the game. To me, the pattern is as obvious as night and day. Even when Mr. Espisito interjected and sided in part with the caller - Mr. Lewis took the discussion in another direction by stating that NHL coaches would probably prefer the 10-minute misconduct as a mandatory infraction over a 2-minute minor as the minor penalty would leave teams shorthanded. I found myself rolling my eyes at my XM Roadie XT unit as this guy continued to talk about how he felt the current rule was fine and how the callers concerns weren't truly accurate. I must be watching/following a different game then he is or maybe I am not hearing him correctly. I am not sure. Only time will tell.
I do know that I will give Mr. Lewis another shot between my commute home this evening and in the morning. I hope someone calls into the show to broach some of the "rough stuff" issues of the game as I really want to hear where Mr. Lewis stands on specific issues. Everyone deserves a second change to make a first impression and in spinning things in a positive light, he certainly doesn't have to do much to improve his standing with me. Here's looking to 5 o'clock ...........

No comments: