The NHL – The National Hypocrisy League
Welcome to the NHL, where you repeatedly play a highlight of a vulnerable, unsuspecting goaltender getting run over on a dirty hit to promote your “Wednesday Night Rivalry”, and then allow your commentators to condemn a player, a coach and an entire organization for one reckless hit.
It sounds ridiculous, almost unbelievable, but that exact scenario played out on Wednesday night when the Buffalo Sabres hosted division rival Boston Bruins for a nationally-televised tilt on the NBC Sports Network.
Whether they watched it live or not, just about every hockey fan is aware by now of the verbal lashings that commentators Mike Milbury and Keith Jones levied on John
Scott, both before and after Scott’s cheap hit on Boston’s Loui Eriksson. Prior to the game, Milbury referred to Scott as a “goon” and a “predator” , and following the contest said that Scott should be “out of this league”.
There’s no defending Scott. What he did was wrong, but it’s nonsensical for Milbury to spew this criticism when, as a player, he once climbed into the stands, ripped off a fan’s shoe and then beat him with it. It’s even more nonsensical to hear this now of all times from Milbury when Scott has already played over 100 games in the NHL. And it’s not as if he’s been a lifetime Buffalo Sabre; Scott was once a member of the prestigious Chicago Blackhawks club, and was even used in playoff competition. What was the reason behind that?
As Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville concisely explained back in April of 2011, “Size.”
Certainly interesting that Milbury suddenly became aware of Scott’s role as an enforcer in time for Wednesday night’s contest, and conjured all of his hypocritical ire for the national broadcast.
But Mr. Milbury was generous Wednesday night, he didn’t merely throw that hypocrisy at just one person. He went on to lambaste Sabres head coach Ron Rolston for the hit, claiming that Rolston is “way over his head” as an NHL coach and “[…] shouldn’t be afforded another game. Not one.”
As the hockey world knows, Michael James Milbury has always been on a valiant crusade against dirty plays in the NHL, vehemently expressing his disapproval of such head coaches like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Dan Bylsma for the many quagmires that Matt Cooke found himself in, or the Blackhawks coach Quenneville when Niklas Hjalmarsson sent Jason Pominville headfirst into the boards and stretched off the ice.
And who can forget the times that he called out the Boston Bruins organization for Johnny Boychuk’s two-handed slash on Thomas Vanek in the 2010 playoffs? Or Milan Lucic’s reckless hit on Ryan Miller in November of 2011?
Unfortunately, Milbury will in all likelihood continue to keep his job as a commentator for the NHL’s premier broadcasts, because the NHL has proven time and time again that it is among the most hypocritical sports leagues going today.
The NHL continues to crack down on head shots and other dirty plays with the potential to harm players, but that doesn’t keep them from rolling the highlight reel of Lucic bulldozing Miller to get fans excited for the season’s first contest between the two clubs.
The fact that the NHL inexplicably deemed that hit justified was deplorable enough; that they have the audacity to advertise it, and then let their commentators berate an entire organization for a similarly cheap hit is simply disgusting.
Of course, this is the state of the modern NHL. It’s a sports league where Patrick Kaleta is targeted for his past and suspended on two different occasions where he was not assessed a penalty for his ‘infraction’ and the player deemed the ‘victim’ was not even hurt, but Boychuk and Lucic’s actions are dismissed, even though they were penalized in-game, and their victims had to leave the ice with injuries, and miss multiple games following the respective instances.
This hypocrisy is the very reason why players like Scott exist, and why Scott is a Buffalo Sabre to begin with. The controlling forces behind the league showed no intention to ever suppress the reckless behavior showcased by players like Boychuk and Lucic, and it was universally agreed across the league that Buffalo needed to be tougher when superstars like Vanek and Miller were taken out on dirty, violent plays.
For those who may be shocked, appalled and in disbelief to learn this for the first time, be assured, it’s the sad truth. There was no passionate outcry against the Boston Bruins by any NBC commentator for the cheap shots by Boychuk and Lucic. During an NBC Sports Network broadcast, analysts simply chuckled, grinned, and alluded to the idea that they NHL hoped the Sabres would man-up and take care of the situation on their own.
Earlier, some commentators apparently lost any ability to express emotion while watching Boychuk chop down Vanek like a lumberjack –
Is it favoritism for a large market, successful team? Is it disinterest in a small market, relatively unsuccessful team? Is it leeway for dirty players who also have a scoring talent? Is it pure incompetence? Whatever the reason, the NHL has a major issue on its hands when it comes to these dirty hits, and it has an even larger issue with the way it has failed to discourage them.
The worst part is, the NHL has only itself to blame for the existence of those two issues.
Wednesday night was an embarrassing night for hockey; but not so much for what happened on the ice, as what happened—and what’s been happening—off the ice.