Monday, March 06, 2006

Outrage Two Ways

We are awash in good sport stories after the weekend; among them I count:

• the challenge that Team Canada will face in the World Baseball Classic from having only two right-handed batters (favoured explanation, as posited by Pete Orr & Jason Bay: most hockey players learn to shoot left);

• the sad spectacle of one of my childhood sports heroes, Bjorn Borg, auctioning his five years of Wimbledon hardware for the equivalent of a modern athlete’s walking-around money;

• the sadder spectacle of an already half-blind Kirby Puckett felled by a stroke;

• the G.I. Joe for boys, Barbie for girls rationale behind Vladimir Putin’s gift of Toyota Land Cruisers to Russia’s male Olympic medalists, and Lexuses to the women;

• the never-ending medical controversies that plague Eric Lindros: apparently the non-surgical approach to his ligament injury has failed, and he’ll miss what little remains of the Leafs season.

More perverse than any legitimate news story is a persistent and ugly trade rumour: that Ed Belfour is about to become an Edmonton Oiler. This is an unholy prospect, albeit one more likely to have a positive impact than the signing of Rem Murray. Perverse, ugly, unholy: am I being clear enough?

Having issued forth my own cries of Bel-four (print does no justice to the cruel tone achieved by the inflections of 16,000 rabid Oil fans) to no avail, I’m more than aware of his game-changing power.

But this season’s .891 save percentage is one of many indications that his time is past. The Belfour of 2005 is barely better than Markkanen or Morrison. Add the moral outrage factor – why not go all out and sign Modano and Hatcher while they’re at it? – and you’ve got a budget-busting recipe for fan alienation.

My real outrage, however, is saved for the goon who goes by the name Brooks Orpik. Before the weekend, the 25-year old defenceman’s only claim-to-fame was to crack 125 PIM in his first full season, while posting an eye-popping minus-36 (he’s no Sean Avery).

On-track for 150 pim this season, Orpik is now certain to be suspended for a savage hit-from-behind on Eric Cole, shown here:

Cole, Staal, Stillman and the rest of the Carolina boys were just beginning to receive the recognition they deserve. They’ve produced some of this year’s most exciting hockey (and buoyed my fantasy club in the process).

Orpik’s hockey career, on the other hand, had produced nothing until this weekend, when he crippled one of the game’s leading scorers.

Will the punishment fit the crime? At least we won’t be distracted by side-disputes about how to measure the punishment, such as the Grabia v Cosh battle about whether Bertuzzi’s off-year suspension and playoff-ban constituted substantial penalties.

I’d throw the book at Orpik: a mandatory one-year suspension, and a return-to-hockey predicated on Cole’s successful return.

The latter would set a clear and brutal precedent: take the risk of ending someone else’s career, and you take the risk of ending your own. If anything could cut down on the check-from-behind, surely that would be it.

UPDATE: As discussed in the comments, Colin Campbell has handed out strongly for penalty and repentance his own version of Zanzinger's sentence: a mere three games.

The justification? Orpik's state of mind. Said Campbell, "There was no deliberate intent to injure."

I argue in the comments for a tougher standard: depraved indifference. Three games is a joke.


At 3:05 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I hope someone is foolish enough to take Belfour off the Leafs' hands.

As for the moral outrage factor, I think that if Eddie settled in and won looked good in his first few games, it would dissapate. Winning helps everybody get over hard feelings.

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Really? I actually thought that Orpik's hit was inintentional. It looked to me like Cole turned at the last second, making the impact of the hit brutal. It reminded me how long ago Kevin Lowe argued that the enforcing the hit from behind penalty so strictly would be a double edged-sword, as players woul start to place themselves in danger so as to draw a penalty. I don't think Orpik deserves a huge penalty, and I looooove the Whale. Maybe I missed something in the highlights.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I haven't seen the Orpik hit, but I do think the bigger risk that would accompany a crack-down on hitting from behind would the difficulty in determing what was intentional and what was not. While hockey players don't have the reputation as being Mensa material, I doubt they're dumb enough to put themselves in position to get serious injured just to draw a double-minor and get their opponent suspended.

Sometimes a hit from behind is intentional (think Claude Lemieux on Draper in the '96 playoffs, or the guy who took out Charlie in the first Mighty Ducks movie. Often, it's the result of unfortunate circumstances, like a player turning into the boards, or someone being unable to stop their momentum.

I absolutely support harsher penalties on pre-mediated attacks like the Bertuzzi-Moore incident, and Dale Hunter's hit on Turgeon in the '93 playoffs. If boarding (intentional or not) is such a concern, then perhaps the only way to deal with it is to eliminate it outright by making hitting illegal within a few feet of the boards. I just don't see how you're ever going to effectively separate the intentional ones and the accidental ones.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I just saw the hit on SportsNet, to me like it was almost an instinctive move on Oprik's part, rather than a premediated hit. I'm not saying he should get off scot free, but a one-year suspension seems drastic to me.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I didn't see the game, but reports indicated it was rough, and Commodore & Roy fought in the second.

But I'd like to pose a more fundamental question: Does it matter whether it was intentional or unintentional? The result is the same.

I'm all for importing an ADA Jack McKoy-like charge of 'depraved indifference', which would hold Orpik accountable for negligence or carelessness: if he couldn't control his check enough to accomodate Cole turning (or as some reports put it, stumbling), then he shouldn't have initiated it. He has to live with the consequences. It's not really that different a principle from the 'thin skull' rule in Canadian criminal law that holds physical attackers accountable for their opponent's injury, even if the person they struck turned out to be unusually vulnerable to injury.

I see the league has come down on the 'unintentional' = 'no foul' side of the debate: a three game suspension, and these words from Colin Campbell that Eric Cole can use to comfort himself during his rehabilitation:
"While it is apparent that there was no deliberate intent to injure on this play, Mr. Orpik's careless hit on his opponent resulted in a serious injury. Even if a player leaves himself vulnerable, the checking player does bear some responsibility in avoiding a hit on a defenseless opponent."


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