Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?
I wasn't watching Tuesday night's Philadelphia Flyers/Detroit Red Wings game, but when my Twitter replies exploded with complaints about a hit by — who else? — Niklas Kronwall, I figured he'd just about killed someone else with another dirty hit.
I was half right. The half I was right about was that he just about killed Jakub Voracek with a hit that caught the wing flush in the face. The half I was wrong about was that it was going to have been dirty.
It was certainly borderline and displayed Kronwall's trademark "obvious disregard for his opponents' safety and wellbeing," but, scary though it was to watch Voracek flail on the ice like he did, it wasn't like he left his feet (this time).
The next morning, the NHL confirmed what most non-Flyers fans suspected: It would not seek supplementary discipline against Kronwall, due partly, one assumes, to the uncertain prognosis of whether Voracek was concussed on the play. He passed a baseline test during the game but reports following it indicated he might get another, more comprehensive one on Wednesday or Thursday. He did note the next day that he wasn't feeling great, but one supposes that's to be expected when Niklas Kronwall hits you in the face at 40 miles an hour with a shoulder pad that could stop a bullet.
But this play, obviously, sparked more debate about whether this is the kind of Hit That Should Stay In The Game. The "You gotta keep your head up" crowd said yes, rational people said no. The fact of the matter is this: Voracek's head was the fabled "principle point of contact" for a hit that left him possibly concussed, but definitely knocked out of the game. It was scary and in no way pleasant for anyone to look at. The quote that was officially espoused by everyone in the Red Wings' dressing room was that, "You never want to see a guy hurt." One of the Flyers said it made him want to puke.
Again, clean hit, but one that, if the league wants to be serious about preventing concussions, shouldn't be. More problematic, though, than everyone praising this as a "good hockey play" because "what was Kronwall supposed to do!?!?" was the NHL's handling of it in the hours following.
It's one thing to say Voracek should do more to protect himself in that situation (and yes, he really should). It's another to openly promote hits like this.
The headline in the sidebar of NHL.com was simply "Voracek gets injured" and had a video full of blame-the-victim rhetoric from David Amber and Gary Green that implied that it wasn't getting belted in the face by a devastating hitter, but rather his head bouncing off the ice that resulted in the terrifying reaction Voracek made, all of it pishposhed away by that "vulnerable position" thing in Rule 48.
But more troubling is that on its main page, front and center, was a video labeling this as the latest "hit of the year" candidate. And not only that, a still of the gruesome aftermath was displayed in the frame below it, with another link to the video.
Really? Promoting a hit that smashed a player's face first and foremost, in which a guy's entire body goes stiff, is what the NHL is doing now, when all the rhetoric about headshots is going in the other direction?
The irony, of course, is that you couldn't see a video like this on NHL.com even a year or two ago because of how the league wanted to protect its image. Even earlier this year, they would hold video of questionable hits back until the supplementary discipline system had run its course. Remember that? A crazy fight or big hit that resulted in an injury would happen and it would barely be acknowledged on NHL.com. Now they're all too eager to show you that video and promote the hit three different ways on one page.
What changed? The Internet. Just because you couldn't see the video on NHL.com doesn't mean it didn't exist. Instead, people rushed to YouTube and their favorite hockey news sites to see some poor idiot get creamed in open ice. That cost the NHL money in the form of lost ad revenues and pageviews, and so the policy on not showing borderline hits, or those that resulted in injuries, shifted to allow a little more wiggle room.
Now, any old grotesque hit you might want to see is available for you in several different ways, as is analysis of it, as long as no one suspended over it. Only then do you get Brendan Shanahan standing there in a suit, the better to communicate the Grave Serious with which the matter is being handled, breaking down exactly how this kind of play needs to be rubbed out of the sport once and for all. And that's to say nothing of the fact that it looks like Shanahan was slowly persuaded to back off from the swift-justice suspensions he was handing down when he first sidled into the Wild West of NHL supplementary discipline, like a modern-day Seth Bullock.
It's pretty odd to talk out of both sides of your mouth like that. Going from "Don't hit guys in the head" to "Here's a guy getting hit in the head and please send this video to all your friends at once" is like what happens when you accidentally downshift from fifth to first on the highway. It takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to both openly disapprove and shamelessly promote plays like that, especially if it's related to something as stupid as "web presence," but hypocrisy is something the NHL has long trafficked in.
Again, the hit was legal and that's perfectly fine. But if you're trying to eliminate concussions and headshots from the sport, maybe in the future you don't try to make a buck off a guy getting knocked out of a game on exactly such a hit.
What does Crosby's return mean this time?
Remember the first time it was announced that Sidney Crosby was coming back from concussion? The breathless updates from every practice. The constant dispatches from every media scrum.
He says he's feeling fine! He says he's taking it a day at a time! He says there's no timetable for him to be in a game again!
This time around, there's a little of that, but at the same time, not as much as you might think or indeed, have expected. Granted, we still don't know when he'll be back. Could be as early as Sunday. Could be some time next week. Tough to be sure. You never know with concussions, as we're constantly reminded.
But something about this latest return feels diminished, doesn't it? Don't get me wrong, the vast, vast majority of people are still very happy indeed to live in a world in which Crosby is playing in the NHL again and gracing our TVs with his dazzling abilities. But the excitement that he's coming back just doesn't feel like it's there any more.
It's a shame, but maybe it's understandable. For one thing, we just don't know how many more times we'll have to go through this. Can we really be expected to get jazzed every time Crosby comes back from an injury? The first, sure. The second? Maybe. The third? The sixth? I get that. If anything, there was probably too much hype for the last first-game-back, considering it was in November and against the Islanders.
For another, and maybe this is more important: We waited almost a year for Crosby to come back last time. This time it was a little more than four months. Does absence really make the heart grow that much fonder?
Or maybe we're just getting more used to it, like this is simply what we expect Crosby does now: Get hurt, play a few games, get hurt again. Perhaps we're saving ourselves from the heartbreak of getting over-invested again.
When he does come back, don't be shocked if networks still scramble personnel to whatever city the Penguins are playing in that night (presumably Pittsburgh but one never knows), and if TV schedules are rearranged to accommodate the return engagement of the world's greatest player so that all can see. But don't expect it to be quite so frenzied.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on Seto in the shootout: " Never remember giving Setoguchi the ok to use my breakaway move. Whatever. I'm over it."
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- Jakub Voracek
- Niklas Kronwall