SB Nation's Hockey Roundtable: The State Of The NHL, Part Two

In Part Two, our bloggers discuss illegal hits in the NHL, the lack of a standard punishment system, the trade deadline and more.

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SB Nation's Hockey Roundtable: The State Of The NHL, Part Two

With the 2009-2010 season well past the half-way mark and the Winter Olympic break looming around the corner, some of the excellent SB Nation hockey bloggers were brought together to discuss some of the top storylines from the season thus far. From illegal hits, to the trade deadline to the Winter Olympics, our bloggers discussed a wide variety of topics in our SB Nation chat.

Part One of our discussion covered the Winter Olympics and the Alex Burrows incident, and can be found here.

Today, Part Two of our roundtable covers the rise of illegal hits in the NHL and what the league is (or isn't) doing to combat these penalties, as well as trade deadline talk and a debate over whether the NHL should allow teams to determine their own rink size.

This week's chat features Cassie McClellan, Dirk Hoag, John Fischer, Derek Zona and Joe Fortunato. SB Nation (Brandon Worley) acted as moderator for the chat. Please note that this chat has been directly transcribed from the discussion.

Brandon W. - Why don't we continue, but first with everyone introduce themselves.

Cassie M. - My name is Cassie McClellan, and I write for the Tampa Bay Lightning site, Raw Charge.

Joe F.  - My name is Joe Fortunato, and I write for the New York Rangers site, Blueshirt Banter.

Dirk H. - I'm Dirk, I cover the Nashville Predators at On the Forecheck...

John F. - I am John Fischer and I support the World Class Hockey played by Jersey's Team, the New Jersey Devils. I write about the Devils at In Lou We Trust.

Derek Z. - Derek Zona, Managing Editor of The Copper & Blue, SBNation's Edmonton Oilers site.

Brandon W. - Perhaps the biggest ongoing theme this season has been the illegal hits and the perceived lack of consistency for punishment. First: is it in the NHL's best interested to put together standardized punishments for all illegal hits?

Dirk H. - Colin Campbell likes to cite various factors (whether elbows came up, prior history, etc.), and those can all be put into a standard to mete out punishment. Even more, however, they need to focus on punishing hits based on the act, and not the injury (or lack thereof) resulting. That's the only way to change on-ice behavior.

Cassie M. - I think it is in the NHL's best interest to standardize penalties. Everyone wants fair treatment, and that would ensure that. But also, knowing that you might get let off lightly because of your reputation lets some players take advantage of certain situations.

Joe F. - I would say yes. The NHL rants and raves about stopping hits to the head, when they don't punish those that actually inflict the hits. I'm sorry but 2 or 3 games for a hit to the head which can seriously injure someone is a joke.

John F. - Yes, yes, yes, and YES. I will come right out and say the first standard that comes out will be terrible and we'll all criticize it, but it'll be far and away better than the arbitrary way punishments will be given out. A standard can be improved, after all.

John F. - There needs to be some documentation on what is and is not suspend-able or warrant further league review. Head shots can fit right in, as Dirk described - not just the ones that cause injury.

Joe F. - And also assuming that a players "past history" should come into play with illegal hits is insanity. Colin Campbell does not look good right now, period.

Cassie M. - Not standardizing their penalties makes the NHL looked like the banana republic of North American sports. It's frankly embarrassing. I mean, we're not in the 1950s, you know?

Derek Z. - Yes. I have season tickets for Robert Morris college hockey. The NCAA has the "contact with the head" penalty. Any contact to the head, regardless of the nature of the hit, is a penalty. And, you know what? It doesn't disrupt the game one bit. There are still huge collisions in the corners and big open-ice hits. The NHL owners need to take the discretion out of Campbell's hands and create a rule. Contact with the head is a penalty, period.

Dirk H. - I think past history is important, though. If a guy does something repeatedly, you need to ramp up the punishment.

Cassie M. - Dirk, you need to have a consistent starting point for that, tho.

John F. - Easy enough, Cassie. Set the starting point at the beginning of the first season it's implemented. Standardize when the monitoring will begin.

Joe F. - Cassie it can't be any worse than all of the new rules post-lockout can it? They can start it at the beginning of the season.

Cassie M. - John, I was thinking more of "if you do this, you get this" kind of starting point for everyone. Then if you get to the "if you do this for a third time, then this will happen" point that Dirk's talking about.

John F. - Oh, I agree with that, Cassie.

Cassie M. - They don't have a consistent starting point. It's become "Well, who are you again? and you did what? Let me think about that, talk to a few people, and then I'll let you know what you get, okay? In the meantime, go play for a while."

Derek Z. - As for standardization in penalties, I'm a proponent of punishment fitting the crime. Mike Richards KO's David Booth for 30 games? Richards should take a 30 game suspension.

Dirk H. - Derek, that "eye for an eye" mentality just doesn't make sense. So if a guy gives someone a career-ending hit, their career should end, too?

Brandon W. - I understand wanting the punishment to fit the injury, but two very similar illegal hits could have two completely different outcomes.

Derek Z. - Dirk, I would say that at least a year's suspension would be fitting. But then again, the NHL is the garage league that continues to employ Todd Bertuzzi.

John F. - I agree with Brandon on that point. Especially if the injury comes well after the hit.

Joe F. - I agree Derek, I thought that Bertuzzi's punishment should have been that he couldn't play hockey till Moore did, and to my understanding Moore has not played since that brutal "incident."

Cassie M. - I hate that the injury dictates the penalty. A high stick is a high stick regardless if a guy is bleeding or not. Why should the injury make a difference? (Rhetorical question - I already know the answer to that.)

Dirk H. - There are so many random factors that go into an injury, not the least of which includes the players ability/willingness to work hard to get back to the NHL, that make that sort of penalty entirely impractical.

Derek Z. - I watch hockey with my son, a Coyotes fan *shudder*. When he saw the Richards hit on Booth, he was kind of stunned that it happened. When I told him that Richards "didn't get in trouble for it" he said "He shouldn't be able to play hockey for a long time." If a little kid can figure this out, a grown man should be able to as well.

John F. - I think the Bertuzzi situation is an anomaly, it shouldn't be the foundation for any league policy.

Derek Z. - Cassie, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a minimum suspension for a blow to the head, there should be. But five games for what Richards did to Booth is far too little.

Derek Z. - If five games were the minimum suspension

John F. - Which it's not, which is the problem. There isn't a minimum, it's all ad hoc.

Joe F. - The problem with that Derek is that star players lay out some of the most dangerous hits. And the NHL does not want to suspend a Crosby, Malik, Ovechkin, Gaborik, Heatley etc.

Joe F. - I mean remember back to the Stanley Cup finals this year where Malkin instigated a fight in game 1 (or maybe game 2) in the last 5 minutes of the game.

Cassie M. - Derek, I'm talking about the initial call. If the league decides to impose additional penalties, then they should go about that in a methodical way. The type injury shouldn't figure into that because then you go back to subjective officiating. And that's what everyone's complaining about.

Joe F. - Something that should automatically be a suspension was rewarded with nothing. Now granted that has nothing to do with injuries but it would seem that the NHL has an agenda for their star players.

Derek Z. - Then the NHL shouldn't feign outrage when the next Stu Grimson puts Patrick Kane out for two months.

Joe F. - I 100% agree Derek

John F. - Or the next Tie Domi elbows Scott Niedermayer in the post season and ultimately costs a team a Cup

John F. - (Note: I'm still bitter about 2001)

Joe F. - Or the nect time Jagr takes a swipe at Gomez and he get injured ... oh wait

Cassie M. - Because of this lack of standardization, the players don't have much respect for officials - which goes back to the Burrows issue. If a guy knows that a star player will get what he gets for doing the same thing, then they'll be more respectful overall

Brandon W. - Besides a better punishment system, what can the NHL do better to protect players from concussions?

John F. - Improved helmets. Do the current helmets do enough?

Joe F. - Mark Messier is working on the new helmets to help prevent concussions.

Joe F. - Drury and Avery even tried them out in pre-game skates.

John F. - Not that I want the NHL to mandate how every player ties their skates, but seeing some of these guys with their helmets so loose on their helmets reduce their effectiveness.

John F. - If the Messier-helmets are an improvement, then by all means, bring them on.

Dirk H. - I don't think helmets can do much more to prevent concussions. It appears that the real damage occurs from violent motion of the brain within the skull, and that has to do with the speed of impact. Helmets can help protect from broken skulls (and a better helmet is always good), but they won't help with concussions much.

Cassie M. - High hits come down to respect. It's not just an equipment issue, but a player issue. Which is why teams don't like releasing specific injuries, because they know that certain other players will target those weak spots. And that's a hockey culture problem.

Joe F. - A problem that is enabled by the NHL with their lack of justice Cassie

Dirk H. - The GQ article that started this discussion lately (related to the NFL) has a good quote here, from the researcher who looked at long-term concussion effects: "Of course, football players wear helmets, good protection for the skull. But the brain? Floating around inside that skull and, upon impact, sloshing into its walls. Omalu thought: I've seen so many cases of people like motorcyclists wearing helmets. On the surface is nothing, but you open the skull and the brain is mush."

Cassie M. - Joe, it's also enabled by the instigator penalty as well.

Joe F. - Yes it is, there are a few chances that need to be made before we see some real positive steps.

Cassie M. -  If a guy knows that he can take out a player without half of the other team taking his sorry self, then he'll do it. But if he knows that someone off of the other team will jump him for say, running their goaltending, then he'll think twice about doing that. But no one will doing anything about it because of the instigator penalty.

John F. - Cassie: That's not true and I saw it this season in the first Devils-Rangers game. Drury ran his knee into Paul Martin's. Maybe accidental, but Oduya didn't think, "Hm, I'd do something about that except I'd get a minor." No, he literally jumped on Drury.

John F. - There's far too many players in the league via culture and personal traits who have no issue for wanting to punch people in the face regardless of 2 minute penalty.

Derek Z. - Brandon, I think you can have the NHL widen the rink a few feet and get rid of the trapezoid. Players are much bigger now and they're playing on the same surface that 5'6" 165 pound guys were playing on 70 years ago. Give them more room to operate. It won't stop the head shots (we discussed how to do that above). Secondly, get rid of the trapezoid. Stop changing the rules because three goalies have talents that no others have. All it's done is made defensemen a sitting duck.

Dirk H. - I'm a big fan of a bigger ice surface, but understand that adjusting current rinks is a non-starter. What about this, though? Allow new rinks to be of dimensions anywhere between the current NHL standard and the international one. That would allow for some variation between arenas, one of my favorite aspects of "old-time hockey".

Derek Z. - Bettmanbot does not like your suggestion, Dirk.

Joe F. - Soccer does that Dirk (for those of you who follow the EPL) and it works out just fine.

John F. - I don't think changing the ice surface is tenable given that will reduce attendance capacities and plenty of money in lost revenue.

Dirk H. - John, I'm talking about allowing new rinks to be of larger dimension. Nobody would change an existing surface and take out seats.

Brandon W. - Sort of like baseball stadiums?

Dirk H. - Exactly, Brandon - heck, the old Boston Garden used to have a smallish rink, leading to much more physical play.

John F. - Dirk: But that will provide a competitive disadvantage towards teams with new rinks. I can't see how the NHL B.o.G. will approve such a move.

Dirk H. - A competitive disadvantage? How so?

John F. - The home team with different dimensions will have more experience and know how to play with the rink's dimensions. Visiting teams won't. That's why soccer teams have different field sizes, so tailor the dimensions to their style at the expense of the opposition.

Joe F. - Either way you look at it I doubt that NHL BoG goes for it. They seem to be happy where things are going.

Dirk H. - John, that's what I call "character". The NHL could use that for different rinks, but I do agree that the BoG will probably never go for it.

John F. - Fair enough.

Brandon W. - This season we've seen the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils all succeed. But now we have Buffalo, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Colorado....all right there in the chase for the top spots. Are we finally starting to see parity in the NHL?

Cassie M. - Wait - isn't "parity" a bad word?

John F. - I thought we had it already? I saw it last season when bottom dwellers like the Islanders torched the Devils for four-goal wins a few times last season. But seriously, the salary cap has been a big boon for this and I love it. It means there aren't any doormat hockey teams, no easy wins, and that makes every game more compelling. If your team has a bad week or two like Pittsburgh, whatever lead you built up in the standings becomes at serious risk. It encourages consistently good performances and as a supporter, that's good.

Dirk H. - The salary cap system has closed the gap between rich and poor teams so I'd say 75% "yes", 25% is artificial parity due to the Overtime Loss point in the standings.

Derek Z. - How do you define parity? Any team has a chance to win the cup in any year?

Joe F. - Yeah, I think so. I think it all started when the 8th seeded Edmonton went to gave 7 in the finals. It was really great to see and it has carried over quite well.

Joe F. - Tons of teams are in the hunt which is exactly what you want to see if you are the NHL

Brandon W. - Derek - Aside from Detroit...the lack of true dynasties...the ability for any team to make a run in the playoffs..

John F. - Dynasties are only great if it's your team that's in the dynasty. Even so, good management of a team can lead to contending season after season like New Jersey.

John F. - Just to name an example.

John F. - Though I understand there's only one Lou.

John F. - And that's hard for non-Lou-run teams.

Joe F. - I would say that New Jersey is a dynasty (although it hurts to say it) because they have been so dominant in so many ways.

John F. - Frame that quote, Brandon, and note that Joe writes at Blueshirt Banter.

Joe F. - Every year since I was in middle school I have been telling myself that the Devils will miss the playoffs but it never happens.

John F. - You and ESPN, Joe.

Derek Z. - Nah. I don't think this is parity. I think this is the beginning of a cyclical NHL. Teams that are able to stockpile talent at the draft are going to start to bubble up. Once that talent becomes too expensive to keep because of the cap, that team will sink back to the middle of the pack for awhile until those contracts burn off and they head back to the bottom of the league. The exceptions of course are teams with excellent management teams, but from what I can tell those are few and far between in the NHL.

Dirk H. - Speaking from the perspective of a small NHL market, I'd certainly say there's parity thanks to the salary cap system. The Preds punch way above their weight year in, year out.

Cassie M. - I agree with Derek. Just because a team lacks a substantial fan base, and they're winning despite that, does that mean there's parity?

Cassie M. - It comes down to cap management at this point. And if a GM doesn't do well at that, then they're not going to do well in the standing. And it's impossible to keep a good team intact because of it. So you'll see six teams or so during any given year ready to compete - but they won't necessarily be the same ones every year.

Dirk H. - If parity means that teams have the ability to compete on a fairly equal footing, you clearly have that in the NHL, as compared to baseball (where New York and Boston outspend everyone else), for example.

Derek Z. - Dirk brings up one team, Nashville, with a proven management team that can deliver results. Detroit is another but over the last two years, they've lost so many goals scored to free agency that they are suffering.

Joe F. - Cassie are you saying that Glen Sather is not good as spending money?

John F. - Well, injuries also crushed that team this season and the replacements haven't been able to fill in adequately, too, Derek.

Cassie M. - Joe, do I really need to answer that for you?

Joe F. - Are you saying that Wade Redden, Michael Rozsival, Donald Brashear and Ales Kotalik were bad?

Joe F. - Those seem like great signings to me

John F. - Hey, Joe, Cassie, Sather did manage to sandbag some poor team with Gomez' contract.

Joe F. - Thats true lol, but he found an equally bad GM to do it to

Cassie M. - But who signed Gomez to said contract to begin with?

John F. - And then proceed to give the savings to a player who has been meeting the expectations but could fall apart at any moment.

Derek Z. - John, the Red Wings had significant injuries over the last few seasons too, but they had depth.

Dirk H. - What the big-market teams need to realize is that they can get around the cap and leverage their financial resources in other ways. Like hiring well-informed bloggers to round out the front office, for example.

Derek Z. - They had to pay that depth or let them go, so now they can't handle injuries.

John F. - Derek, I know. This season, the depth isn't enough; I agree with you.

Cassie M. - Yeah, the Red Wings had cheap depth. Shallow depth? Wait....

Brandon W. - What's the trade deadline going to look like? We all know that Ilya Kovalchuk will get the most attention. Any other big names going out on the market?

Cassie M. - Oh, the regular circus will erupt around Lecavalier - despite Lecavalier having a no-movement clause in his contract. At this point, I think it's it's just habit. No one can help it. Especially the Montreal fans.

John F. - I was about to say Scott Niedermayer, lots of Devils fans want him back; but per Spector's comments at Puck Daddy's trade rumor talk this week, that doesn't appear to be feasible now.

Dirk H. - I'm guessing there will be lots of moaning about the cap and other factors getting in the way of making deals, but we'll still end up with 20+ trades just like last year.

Brandon W. - Do you think we'll see more three way trades this year?

John F. - I don't think so, I think teams will still prefer to deal just one-to-one if only so buyers can just address their own needs without inadvertently helping their competition.

Derek Z. - I actually think this year is going to have a couple of huge trades. There are a few teams that are peeking in that have loads of cap space (Los Angeles, Colorado) and a some teams that seem to be ready to take pennies on the dollar.

Joe F. - From a Rangers side of things if they keep playing bad then Vaclav Prospal, Dan Girardi and a few prospects will be on the market.

Cassie M. - I don't see any big names moving. I'm not even sure Kovalchuk will go. It'll be a lot of mid-level guys and minor leaguers changing teams like last season, I think.

John F. - The Devils could move some of their youthful depth, but that requires the regulars getting healthy and that has been a consistent problem throughout the season.

John F. - I do think the Devils have the chips to make a big deal but if Scott Niedermayer's out, I'm not really sure who should the Devils swing for.

Derek Z. - I don't think Kovalchuk goes anywhere either. I think if anyone in Atlanta moves, it's going to be Colby Armstrong.

Joe F. - Quiet John we all know what the Devils will do. Lou will make a trade for some no name guy and everyone will laight at them untill the guy suddenly become amazing.

John F. - I would like to see what Lou did two years ago and trade a goon for an actual, useful player.

John F. - Poor St. Louis.

John F. - But I doubt anyone would want either Andrew Peters or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.

Dirk H. - It will be interesting to see if the young teams that have stepped forward this year (like L.A. and Colorado) sacrifice some long-term resources to take a stab at making a run this spring.

Cassie M. - I don't think the Lightning will do much. There are rumors floating around that the team's owners are on the verge of bankruptcy, so people will be expecting a fire sale. But in the end, I don't see anything happening. They've already tried unloading a couple of guys, but there haven't been any takers.

Dirk H. - Those kinds of moves can backfire big time.

Brandon W. - Ok, as we wrap things one last, quick fire question. Who are the current favorites in the East and West?

Dirk H. - Cassie, does St. Louis have a no trade clause?

Derek Z. - Names that are going to be moved will be Kaberle, Souray, Whitney, Cullen, Armstrong, Torres, Nolan, Koivu, Tanguay and Kariya

Cassie M. - Yes. St. Louis has a no-trade clause. Of course, so did Dan Boyle and that didn't stop him from being moved. But I don't see Marty going anywhere. Everyone loves him.

Brandon W. - Who are your early Stanley Cup favorites from each conference?

Derek Z. - Chicago, San Jose and Vancouver in the west

Dirk H. - Favorites? New Jersey and Chicago.

Derek Z. - Washington, New Jersey and Pittsburgh in the East

Joe F. - The Rangers are an obvious favorite in the East. And by the Rangers I mean New Jersey.

John F. - East: New Jersey, Buffalo, Washington in that order. West: Chicago, San Jose, and Vancouver. I don't trust Phoenix yet, not sold totally on Nashville, and I wonder how the Avs will look today.

Joe F. - West I would say Chicago

Cassie M. - I was saying at the beginning of the season that the Cup would be played between Chicago and Washington. I still see that happening.

John F. - The Caps could be like the Chicago of the East but they tend to falter at the wrong times. Buffalo is for real, and the Devils - well, mid-November was the last time they lost 2 straight games.

Derek Z. - One other buyer at the deadline will probably be Phoenix. If they can get a couple of expiring contracts forpennies on the dollars, they need to. They really need a playoff series win there and I think management realizes it.

Joe F. - Agreed Derek

John F. - Phoenix needs scoring, but I doubt they can pull a Kovalchuk.

Joe F. - They can have Drury, he scores goals

Dirk H. - Agreed on Phoenix, although I wonder how that works with the league running the team, and the budget they're operating under. I'm pulling for them, though, that's a great story.

Cassie M. - If Kovalchuk goes anywhere, I think it'll be to LA.
Brandon W. - Oh great.

Derek Z. - They certainly can't pull a Kovalchuk, but they could easily get a combo of Tanguay and Whitney or something similar.

Joe F. - I don't think Kovalchuk goes anywhere, not many teams are willing to give up a kings ransom for a rental.

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