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Time To Go Back In Time

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Forget old school. Let’s go Old Testament.

Leafs’ defenceman Mike Van Ryn is back in the lineup tonight in Buffalo.

Last time you saw Van Ryn he was being driven into the boards from behind, courtesy of Tom Kostopolous of the Montreal Canadiens.

The hit left him with a bad cut, broken nose, broken hand, missing teeth and a concussion.

The NHL suspended Kostopoulos, who doesn’t fit the profile of a serial injurer, for three games. Van Ryn, who took a regular shift and logged special team duty before his injury, missed 13.

There is plenty of unfairness to go around. When Ryan Hollweg hit St. Louis rookie Alex Pietrangelo from behind in October, he picked up a three game suspension that spoke to the hit as well as the similar offences he had incurred. Pieterangelo, the fourth overall draft choice last June, missed six contests.

The Kings’ Matt Johnson, who ended the career of New York’s Jeff Beukeboom with an elbow from behind, was suspended for 12 games. Johnson drew an NHL salary for another six years.

When the Devils’ Cam Janssen blindsided Tomas Kaberle in March of 2007, he got three games. Kaberle, infinitely more valuable to the Leafs than Janssen was to Jersey, missed eight. In a novel turn, John Ferguson, the Leafs GM at the time, suggested a more fitting penalty would involve forcing the Devils to give Janssen a regular shift.

So where would an eye for an eye fit into the NHL’s methodology for handing out suspensions? What’s the argument for suspending a player until the person he injures returns to the lineup.

There are, remember, two purposes for punishment. It is meant to restore a sense of faith in the people who administer the game - thus reinforcing the notion of fairness - and it  must modify behaviour.

And it’s here that an Old Testament approach to discipline only bats strikes out.

Never mind the legal questions, which would probably derail the idea anyway

Would you modify behaviour with this approach? You bet. But not for the better.

An Old Testament approach would garner equally radical results. Injuries happen in a flash of a second but that’s where hockey is played. The only way to eliminate injuries is to eliminate contact. Every game with this kind of a discipline code would look like ringette. Who would be willing to nudge a player into the boards if it meant imperiling his livelihood? The notion of finishing a check is an odious one but no checking at all is worse.

Zero tolerance looks great on paper. Unfortunately, real life involves real people.

Old Testament justice leaves no wriggle room.

What to do, for example, when the penalty is greater than the actual damage caused by the infraction.

When Hollweg, then a New York Ranger, hit Chris Simon from behind, Simon chopped Hollweg down with his stick. Hollweg returned to the game. Simon got 25 games.

Old Testament justice leaves no room for rehabilitation. The Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi story is one of the ugliest in the history of a sport with a long history of bloodletting (think Eddie Shore and Ace Bailey) but there has to be room for a player to repent and move on.

There is another biblical passage that involves stones. It’s about not throwing them unless you are incapable of wrong..

Unfortunately, we are not built that way either.


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