Nine years ago, NHL vice-president Colin Campbell acknowledged in an email that became public that, “we sell and promote hate.” Well, if that’s the case, then business should be booming tonight when the Nashville Predators host the St. Louis Blues in the second of their back-to-back games. Get your tickets and set your PVRs because the Predators will be out for blood.
Or at least they should be. Even this corner would have a tough time admonishing anyone on the Nashville roster if he decided even things up tonight. After Robert Bortuzzo of the Blues got off with a minor penalty for viciously crosschecking Viktor Arvidsson of the Predators in their game Saturday night, and before NHL disciplinarian George ‘The Violent Gentleman’ Parros brought down his laughable four-game suspension for Bortuzzo, Austin Watson of the Predators had this to say about the incident: “That’s not my place to decide whether any action is taken. We’ll let the proper guys deal with that stuff.”
Well, guess what, Austin? The “proper guy” is a former goon who had 1,092 career penalty minutes and 158 fights (for a goals-to-fights ratio of 1:8.8) and once owned and operated an apparel company that produced hats that said, “Make Hockey Violent Again.” So good luck with that. ‘The Violent Gentleman’ is the one who imposed this sentence to a repeat offender and a guy who had been previously fined twice during his career for crosschecking. But take heart. Because Bortuzzo is a repeat offender, he’ll lose roughly $67,000 rather than the $44,000 he would have lost if it had been a first offense. So like, you’ve got that going for you.
So, Mr. Watson, because you were failed miserably by those who are supposed to be protecting you, the only alternative you have is to do something just as egregious to one of the Blues. And it can’t be Bortuzzo because he’ll be sitting out the first game of his four-game suspension. And if you or one of your teammates decides to exact revenge, say by drilling one of the Blues’ front-line players repeatedly in the back with the shaft of your stick, well then you’ll just be putting a bow on the cycle of violence that makes hockey so unique and wonderful. And those people who secretly love this kind of stuff will once again cluck their tongues and declare that there is no place for this kind of behavior in the game.
It was precisely this kind of play that robbed the NHL of one the greatest scorers of all-time when Hall of Famer Mike Bossy was forced to retire at 30. That was more than 30 years ago. It’s the kind of play that prompted Mario Lemieux to give up on the game and rob himself and the fans of three years of his brilliance. Nice to see how hockey has evolved. It’s also the kind of play that will probably get Bortuzzo another contract after this one expires in two years. Go figure.
The day after Arvidsson’s injury, the Predators announced he would be out of the lineup for between four and six weeks, which means he’ll miss anywhere between 13 and 18 games. Split the difference between 13 and 18 and you fall at roughly 15 games. Now that sounds like a reasonable suspension, or at least a good starting point, for what Bortuzzo did. That’s what any reputable league would have done in this case and that would have deprived Bortuzzo of more than $251,000 of his $1.375 million salary. Then perhaps he would have taken notice.
But Parros, as he is so often wont to do, bailed on doing the right thing. Everyone makes so much about how Parros is the right man for this job because he lived strictly by ‘The Code’, that nebulous non-document about what is right and wrong in the game. Apparently his code calls for a four-game suspension for repeat offenders who use their sticks to deliberately injure opponents for no other reason than they had their shorts in a knot. Or perhaps its because he’s afraid of an NHL Players’ Association that would be sure to appeal, which would put it in the spot of having to defend what Bortuzzo did. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s like a lot of the other far-too-many players who hold levers of power in this league who don’t really think this is such a terrible thing.
Part of the problem, of course, has little to do with Parros or Bortuzzo specifically. For years and years, this league has seen fit to have penalties for crosschecking in its rulebook, yet operates on the assumption that it’s perfectly acceptable to repeatedly crosscheck any player who has the temerity to enter a scoring area. Parros acknowledged as much in his explanation of the suspension: “Players often battle for position in front of the net and it is not uncommon for a player to use his stick to attempt to move offensive players away from the net,” Parros said. “With rare exceptions, these plays can usually be penalized by the on-ice officials.” Note that Parros used the word can and not the word are. Because they are not.
That explains why the first crosscheck received only a minor penalty. But the second one? Well, there are a good number of people who should be ashamed of themselves right now, first and foremost Bortuzzo himself. But being the great, stand-up hockey bro that he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he placed a call to Arvidsson to see whether he was OK. How lovely. The others are the refereeing duo of Kyle Rehman and Brian Pochmara, who thought it was appropriate that Bortuzzo be allowed to participate in the 51 minutes and 52 seconds that remained in the game after his minor penalty. And lastly, George ‘The Violent Gentleman’ Parros should immediately be asked to tender his resignation. Zero chance of that happening.
Had Parros lowered the boom on Bortuzzo, the NHLPA would have likely filed an appeal. But Arvidsson, who will spend at least a month recovering and may well have permanent damage because of this, has absolutely no avenue for appeal. “I think it’s an embarrassment in that the league doesn’t allow players to police the game anymore,” said Arvidsson’s agent, Kurt Overhardt. “The league has a chance to make a statement and the end result is very disappointing. The league talks big about protecting the players, but in this case it dropped the ball.”
It’s impossible to argue with that logic. Meanwhile, get your last-minute tickets and set your PVRs for 7 p.m. Central Time.
And in the meantime, carry on, then…
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