Monday, January 07, 2008

The System of a Downie

Following the Philadelphia Flyers is the equivalent of watching a train wreck in slow motion, any horror movie, or even most episodes of The Office (or most other comedies for that matter)... you know things are going to go horribly wrong, but you can't turn away. The most recent calamity again has Steve Downie's handiwork written all over it, as he tried to gouge out the eye of Toronto Maple Leafs' forward Jason Blake with his thumb (after a linesman separated the two). This time, though, league discipline czar Colin "Soupy" Campbell (yes, he was actually called that during his playing days with the Canucks) decided that the act didn't even warrant a suspension, which is completely ridiculous. As James Mirtle points out, even Downie's own GM (who incidentally led the Flyers in career penalty minutes until the early 1990s) isn't defending him this time, but Colin Campbell somehow is.

Another incident in the same game that's potentially even more serious (in terms of career damage) but has gotten less attention was Derian Hatcher's head-hunting. In a moment that was both tragic and darkly comic, Hatcher tried to nail Alex Steen with an incredibly dirty jumping hit/elbow, but fails miserably. Steen ducks, and Hatcher winds up hitting teammate Joffrey Lupul, knocking his helmet off, and driving his head into the ice. You can see the video here. As one CBC commentator (I think it's Greg Millen) points out on the clip, "What is he thinking?!" The results: Lupul winds up in hospital with a spinal contusion and a concussion. If this was another team's player, people would be baying for Hatcher's blood as well as Downie's. It's tough to assess a suspension based purely on intent, but if there ever was a time to do it, this would be it. (Interestingly, Hatcher may be facing a suspension for a different incident, where he reportedly bit the finger of the New Jersey Devils' Travis Zajac. The man should change his name to Mike Tyson already!)

These incidents are merely the symptoms of the problem: the disease goes right to the organization's roots. Despite GM Paul Holmgren's attempts to evade blame in the Downie incident, he is directly responsible for a large part of the continuing stupidity involving the Flyers. It is not a coincidence that one organization has racked up five suspensions so far this season. Bobby Clarke, one of the dirtiest players who ever lived (consider his slash on Kharlamov back in the 1972 Summit Series as an example) is the former GM and current senior vice-president, responsible for much of the pervading organizational culture in Philly these days. Holmgren, a former Broad Street Bully (and the aforementioned former penalty king of the Flyers), is cast from much of the same mould, and so is head coach John Stevens, who racked up 1399 penalty minutes in 834 career AHL games. They've filled their team with Downies, Hatchers, and Boulerices (if you missed any of the earlier incidents, including Jesse Boulerice's attack on Ryan Kesler, check out my post here about them), and now they should pay the price. Kudos to the league for threatening action against the team if these incidents continue, but a giant raspberry to Campbell for neglecting to take any action against Downie or Hatcher.


  1. Great post, Andrew. But I disagree with a few points here. For one, Hatcher left his feet after he collided with Steen, so it was a clean hit. Hatcher may be a goon, but Steen had his head down and deserved a hit. The fact that Hatcher tumbled over Steen and nailed Lupul was a fluke.
    Downie didn't deserve a suspension based on past practice, as far as League rules go. I think he only deserved a major penalty and a game misconduct. But nothing further until the League issues a statement saying that such acts warrant a suspension.
    Don't forget, it's hockey. Black eyes and bloody noses are not a big deal.
    Just my opinion.

  2. Good points, Sean. On the Hatcher hit: I didn't see it live, only on YouTube, so it's quite possible that he jumped after the collision: it looked to me like he was jumping into Steen, though, so that's where I was going with it. I have no problem with Hatcher hitting Steen, and I have no desire to take hitting out of the game: it's one of the best parts of hockey. My problem is that it looked (to me at least, and I think to the commentators) like Hatcher was deliberately going for a head shot. You're quite right that past practice and the letter of the law don't make a suspension necessary in either case: my beef is that I think the league should consider intent here, which I think would necessitate suspensions in both cases (especially given both players' histories). Plays where the specific intent is to injure shouldn't be allowed, IMO. They don't seem to be punished too much at the moment, but my hope is that they will some day: it would mean that a lot of great players wouldn't have had their careers end early.