- Craig Custance
MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Bruins are often cited as the NHL’s ideal mix of skill and toughness. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has built a team that typically doesn’t depend on one guy to do its policing. With the gradual elimination of the traditional enforcer, Boston’s roster is elevated as the example of where the league should be evolving, with a premium on guys who can play as well as fight, if needed.
And the Penguins -- not many franchises have been more public about concussion prevention than Pittsburgh since Sidney Crosby was sidelined with his first one in the 2011 Winter Classic. GM Ray Shero has taken the public stance that fighting needs to be critically examined by those running the league, even if that opinion may not be popular among the players.
Yet, it was these two teams that brought out hockey’s ugliest side on Saturday. From Shawn Thornton driving Brooks Orpik’s head into the ice in a nauseating scene to James Neal’s “accidental” knee to Brad Marchand -- two of the Eastern Conference’s highest profile teams set hockey back over the weekend. Again. It’s just the latest example of how too often when players discuss things like a code or respect for one other, it’s meaningless talk completely abandoned the moment a teammate is perceived as slighted in any way, real or imagined.
Teams that should be celebrated for their high-end skill dragged themselves down to a level of entertainment that many casual sports fans in the United States have little to no stomach to watch, relegating hockey to punchline status.
Incidents like these, when they occur so close to a gathering like the GM meetings or Board of Governor meetings, can often spark change, which brings us to our first “Next Question” of the week:
Are enough owners fed up with the dangerous product on the ice to speak out at the Board of Governors meetings today and tomorrow?
Unlike last time this group met in Pebble Beach, where a drastic league realignment was proposed, this meeting is supposed to be primarily informational: Approval of the huge Canadian television deal. A projection of the next salary cap. Reports from Brendan Shanahan on league discipline and another on the recent concussion lawsuit. And perhaps those last two segments are where the one-sided reporting can become a legitimate debate. Considering the mix of legal action and on-ice ugliness, the tone of the gathering of NHL owners this week in Monterey could be completely different from what was planned a few weeks ago. At least, let’s hope.