November 02, 2010
When I saw Chris Neil(notes) of the Ottawa Senators bloody Dennis Seidenberg(notes) of the Boston Bruins with a few glove-on left jabs before "fighting" him, I had one simple thought: "Man I hate agitators."
I always have.
I hated playing against them, I hated them being on my team, and I hated them in the scheme of competing for jobs.
Wouldn't you be embarrassed to play that role?
I was one of those players that got the "if you can't crack the top six, you can't crack the team" treatment. (Justifiably so. I got knocked off the puck a lot, didn't knock anyone else off it, and generally bounced off the people I tried to run. At 6-foot-2, that's an impressively soft feat.)
So I played for top six spots, which can be a tough nut to crack.
Yet somehow, there was always one spot reserved for this kid who played the agitator role, a job where talent isn't necessarily a prerequisite. I'm fine with that spot existing; you just hate seeing a guy play in a league above you who isn't as good at hockey, but makes it because he slips in as many cheap shots as possible when the ref isn't looking.
In general terms, the bottom three of one league will be less talented than the top three of the league below. So if you're a pest on an NHL team (and you aren't also a skilled player like Alex Burrows or Steve Downie(notes)), there's some kid with mad dangles in the AHL making a tenth the money because he's still developing and insists on playing with a modicum of respect.
Some concessions: I know they're fan favourites. I see why they're fun to have on your team. I would run with the rest of the kids to watch the fights in high school too, and the pests are the ones starting them. Therefore, fans see pests as some sort of mini Don King -- entertaining people who start fights for a living.
There might even be a place in the game for them. They can draw penalties (while taking their share), they can get opponents off their games, and ...and ... well, apparently some of them do other stuff too.
If you haven't picked up my tone here: I don't necessarily blame GMs and coaches for holding that roster spot for them, but that doesn't mean I have to respect what they do.
You need to understand -- none of these guys went to a summer camp on How to Become a Successful Pest. Most of them grew up as bratty [expletives] who kept taking penalties and sticking opponents behind the play. The [expletives] that had talent moved on, and the ones that didn't ... became coaches, I guess.
Eventually these guys hit talent roadblocks. They couldn't go any further. But they were smart enough to realize that their crap-disturbing talents were more valuable that their actual hockey ones, so they became caricatures of themselves. (See: Daniel Carcillo, Sean Avery(notes). Those guys were always a pain, but they're starting to feel like reality show characters).
Now that it's become their role, it's either stir the pot or get the axe.
For the most part, they're not mad during between-whistle scrums. They're not intense.
If you sit around and watch an NHL game with the older generation of hockey players, they tear their hair out watching that stuff. "If you want to fight him then [expletive] FIGHT him."
Yesterday, Brian McGrattan(notes) of the Bruins pointed out that when he was teammates with Chris Neil for three years, he basically had to clean up after Neil (translated: he called him phony). He said Neil would do stuff to get kicked out so he wouldn't have to answer the bell. I don't know if that's true in their case, but I've played with insincere "lemme-at-‘em" players like that.
Always willing to arrange the party, but never willing to show up for it.
And that's gutless.
If these guys don't get their PIMS, if they don't start some fights, they simply wouldn't stay in the league. Which is why when a scrum starts and one of these guys is on the ice, you know it's gonna be a Bud Light commercial ... Here we go. And that has nothing to do with honest emotion.
I understand that all these players are not to be lumped together, as each individual player is different.
But when it comes to that general style of play, I see no reason to respect it.