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Elias Pettersson is the latest in a long line of NHL stars who are targets of on-ice abuse

From casual slashes to crosschecks in the back, Elias Pettersson's star status means he faces a greater level of abuse from opposing defenders than many of his teammates. But it's time for the NHL to take a stand and do more to protect its players.

Anyone who has watched NHL hockey over the past season-and-a-half did not require a Hockey Night in Canada montage to come to the conclusion that Elias Pettersson is a target of abuse. This has been going on pretty much since Pettersson first stepped onto the ice as a rookie. And as HNIC personality Scott Oake aptly put it: “The attention Elias Pettersson commands as the Canucks’ best player is to be expected…”

This is nothing new. Ask Bobby Hull, who railed against it for years. Ask Peter Stastny, who often had to drive home from games with one hand because the other one was too bruised to grip the steering wheel. Ask Mike Bossy, who likely would have scored 800 goals if the abuse he took had not forced him to retire at the age of 30.

It has been this way time immemorial. If the NHL were running the PGA tour, Tiger Woods would have to be concerned with getting crosschecked in the back every time he lined up a birdie putt. Instead of protecting its most gifted and dedicated players, the NHL in particular and hockey in general is of the opinion that the best players are not only required to lead their teams to victory, but do it while enduring all kinds of skullduggery to which they only are subjected. It’s ass-backwards. Because hockey.

It’s no coincidence that Pettersson is one of the smallest, slightest players in the NHL. Opponents do this to him because they know they can. Do not blame other teams or players for the abuse Pettersson and the best players receive. Blame the NHL. Blame the culture of hockey. Blame the fact that the levers of power in this league are inordinately controlled by former marginal players who made a career out of playing that way.

You probably can’t even blame the referees, who oftentimes are standing there watching a player get worked over and somehow can’t get their whistles out of their pockets. These guys are part of the hockey culture, too. But this much is irrefutable: Either they are being directed by their superiors to allow this stuff to continue relatively unabated or they are utterly incompetent. Nothing in between. And since NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went on an impassioned tangent during last year’s Stanley Cup final about how the officials employed by the NHL are the best in the world, well, we’ll let you come to your own conclusions. (Of course, Bettman also answered an inquiry during the all-star break by launching into an impassioned defense of George ‘The Violent Gentleman’ Parros and what a fine job he is doing as director of player safety.)

So, Elias Pettersson is going to continue to put up with this until (a) he starts answering in kind with his stick, (b) the Canucks go out and get someone who will protect him, or (c) the NHL changes its philosophy when it comes to protecting players. And this has nothing to do with protecting star players, even though that would not be a bad idea. This is about calling the rulebook as it’s written. If the league were simply to do that, it would protect the star players. You see, third- and fourth-liners aren’t subject to this kind of abuse because they’re third- and fourth-liners.

There may be some hope on the horizon. During all-star weekend, NHL vice-president Colin Campbell told that crosschecking, an infraction that has reached epidemic proportions, will be the subject of discussion when the GMs convene next month. “It’s something we’re going to address at the managers’ meeting,” Campbell said. “Now it’s hurting players.”

So, apparently the fact that it seems that players are now getting hurt is the threshold, not the fact that it eliminates a scoring chance, is a potentially dangerous play and is the easiest way for a sub-par defenseman to even out the disadvantage against a more talented forward. Well, whatever it takes.

The league has addressed the casual slash. And it looks as though it’s going to start doing something about the indiscriminate crosscheck. Chances are, though, talented players such as Elias Pettersson will continue to have to deal with being targeted for abuse. It will just come in different forms. Because that’s the way it has always been and that’s the way the people who run this league want to see it continue.

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