It is, of course, insane to suggest the Randy Jones hit from behind on Patrice Bergeron Saturday afternoon is anything even remotely close to the dangerous cheap shots delivered by Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice. It’s probably even more ridiculous to suggest that because these players all happen to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, the organization is running amok and must be dealt with harshly before it does any more damage.
But that also doesn’t mean Jones shouldn’t be suspended for a lot more than two games for his hit on Bergeron. In fact, it could be argued his suspension should be almost as long as the 20 games Downie got for his vicious hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond or the 25 Boulerice received for his crosscheck to the face of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler.
I’ve said it many times before; if players are responsible for what they do with their sticks, they must also be responsible and accountable for what they do with their bodies, regardless of whether or not there was ever any intention to injure a player.
And as long as the hockey culture continues to view these kinds of things as “hockey hits,” more and more players are going to be injured by players who are recklessly, but not maliciously, using their bodies.
There is absolutely no doubt Jones did not intend to hurt Bergeron. There’s nothing in his past to suggest he’s a dirty player or one who has no regard for his opponent. He was obviously sufficiently contrite after it happened and you have to believe he truly regretted the result of his hit.
But he still hit an opponent from behind, he still got his elbow up and drove his opponent’s head into the glass and he still delivered a hit that, in this writer’s opinion, could have been avoided. It wasn’t as though Jones committed himself completely to hitting Bergeron and couldn’t let up. He could have let up and he should have let up.
And please, spare everyone this garbage that Bergeron is somehow culpable because he turned away from the hit and went low before having his head driven into the dasher board. The people who espouse that view are the same ones who would chastise McAmmond for having his head down – Duh, it’s called body position. And if there was absolutely nothing wrong with the hit, then why exactly did Jones receive a five-minute major for boarding on the play?
The problem here isn’t with Randy Jones or the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s with the minds in hockey that see these kinds of hits as clean hockey hits and view a broken nose and concussion as the kind of inevitable collateral damage that results when a very fast game is played by very large men at a very intense level. As long as the hockey world continues to view these kinds of hits as acceptable, they’re going to keep happening and players are going to continue getting hurt.
We got a glimpse of the NHL reality when Wayne Fish of the Bucks County Courier Times asked Flyers GM Paul Holmgren whether teams might be a bit intimidated by Philadelphia in the aftermath of these three incidents. Holmgren responded by saying: “I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
In reality, Jones’ hit on Bergeron was a headshot – not a headshot in the Downie sense – but a headshot nonetheless. Let’s go through the NHL’s five new criteria on headshots to see where this one stands:
Did Jones deliberately target Bergeron’s head? No.
Did he launch himself by leaving his feet to hit Bergeron? No.
Is Jones a repeat offender? No.
Did he deliver the hit to the head of an unsuspecting opponent? You bet he did.
Was it a late hit? This is the pivotal point as far as the NHL is concerned. If you go by the textbook definition of a late hit, this one doesn’t fall into that category. But if you subscribe to the theory that Jones could have recognized Bergeron was in a vulnerable position against the boards and that Jones could have held up on making the hit, then there is absolutely no doubt it was a late hit.
So, depending on how the NHL looks at this one, Jones is guilty in one or two of the five criteria the NHL has established.
And that’s why the league needed to suspend Jones for a significant period and send a message to others. In this case, intention or lack of it has very little to do with the incident. When players highstick another player accidentally, they’re still penalized. When players clear the puck over the glass inadvertently, they receive a minor penalty.
And in this case, the NHL had to look at recklessness with the same seriousness as intention. Two games isn’t going to provide a real deterrent for any player and just when it looked like the NHL was making gains with the welfare of its players, it took a big step back with this one.