Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Allen: Hockey's Code Has Gone Awry

USA Today's Kevin Allen raised some issues in a recent column that I have seen echoed in the comments sections of many articles that covered the Shawn Thornton sucker-punch on Brooks Orpik incident.

Orpik, who didn't feel he should have to fight after laying a massive, clean body check on Loui Ericksson of the Bruins, was later given no choice and instead pulled to the ice by an irate Shawn Thornton, who then cold-cocked Orpik and knocked him unconscious.

Allen wonders in his recent column when did hockey's code change so that even players who execute clean open-ice checks are considered open game by the opposing team's enforcer?

"Dissect what happened Saturday night in Boston any way you want," writes Allen, "and it still centers on the issue that Thornton was trying to make Orpik pay for delivering what was deemed a legal body check."

He continues, succinctly:

Now in today's game, most big hits, even legal ones, seems to be followed by a call to arms by someone on the other team. That scenario has become increasingly commonplace over the past decade.

This is not a Boston Bruins problem or a Thornton problem. This is an NHL problem with significant consequences.

First, it sometimes leads to the kind of scary situation we had Saturday night when Orpik was attacked by Thornton.

Second, it discourages legal hitting, which most of us seem to want in the game. Why would any player in today's game want to deliver a heavy hit? If he does, he probably will be asked to fight.

If the league doesn't address this at some point, the big hit is going to become an endangered species or we are going to have more situations like we had Saturday when the Pittsburgh Penguins' Orpik obviously felt he shouldn't have to fight because he delivered a legal hit on Loui Eriksson earlier in the game and Thornton believed he should fight.

The logic of Thornton is clear in this situation. Ericksson is a smaller player who was already knocked into kingdom come earlier in the season by Sabres' tough guy Jon Scott. The Bruins want to send a message to anyone who hits Ericksson that they will have to pay for it.

The question is: Do we want teams using intimidation to protect their players from clean body checks? What's next? Why not just sucker-punch anybody who scores a power play goal against your team? Or any goalie who makes a big save?