The Hockey Prof has been disheartened by the rash of disciplinary actions the league has been forced to dish out over the past few weeks. Time and again the league has suspended or fined players for various incidents on and off the ice. Time and again the Hockey Prof has been disgusted by the low quality of these so-called "cheap shots." It has gotten so bad this hockey fan has begun to think the unthinkable: Has the art of the cheap shot been lost?
So, armed with five cases of Busch and a laptop dialed into YouTube, I have spent a week investigating the state of the cheap shot in the NHL. As feared, the situation I found is pretty dire. But, before we look at the evidence, I think it would be prudent to define what it is we are looking for when we talk about cheap shots.
Now, to my mind for something to qualify as an honest to goodness cheap shot certain half-assed criteria must be met. (You will find the Hockey Prof simply lives for half-assed criteria.) Accordingly, I've distilled the art of the cheap shot into three components.
INTENTION: Any cheap shot worthy of the name must be clear cut and intentional. Anything that remains open to interpretation doesn't count. If it isn't immediately apparent to the players and officials on the ice, fans in the stands, reporters in the press box, deceased NHL executives floating around purgatory, dogs, cats, and hamsters that something is a cheap shot then it isn't one.
VICTIM APPROPRIATENESS: Like all good things in life (alcohol, sex, Imo's, um... did I say alcohol already?) cheap shots are relative. (Note: I did not just espouse sex with relatives.) I'm just saying it would have been really hard to cheap shot, for example, Reed Low. I mean if someone went out on the ice and went after Reed's knee with a hammer, while we might all say "Oh that's horrible!" there would be a small part of us thinking "Reed must have had that coming." After all, what happens in Goon Club, stays in Goon Club...or the local criminal court system. So, for our purposes here, the player victimized must be relatively innocent, or at least as innocent as hockey players can be.
By the same token, the player can't be a relative unknown either. If someone goes after Jonas Junland while he is in St. Louis for a cup of coffee, the only people who would care either read this blog or are also named Junland. To put it philosophically, if a player gets mugged and he is on no one's fantasy team, who gives a shit?
CRINGE WORTHINESS: The cheapest of cheap shots are those that cross that line. A simple crosscheck or sucker punch just won't cut it. So, what is that line exactly? Well, that line is like creepy pornography; I can't define it, but my wife knows it when she finds it on my computer. It is something you look at and say, "Oh that just ain't right."
So, keeping these criteria in mind, it is time to dive into the evidence. And may God have mercy upon our souls...
Denis Gauthier (2 Game suspension)
This is a game effort from Gauthier. But it lacks something. It could be that Josh Gorges isn't exactly a household name, even if he is having his "breakout" season with 16 points in 62 games. Also, while it clearly is a hit to the head and Gautier certainly leaves his feet to make it... it doesn't have that "Stop me!!! I'm a madman out of control! AUGH!!!!" quality that I'm looking for. I feel Gauthier has better work in him.
Cheap shot verdict: Minor penalty
Hey, look who we have here....
Denis Gauthier (2 Game suspension)
Well, if at first you don't succeed try, try again?
The only problem here is, was that even a penalty? I mean, you've got an official standing three feet away and his arm doesn't go up. Gauthier doesn't hit him from behind, doesn't really get an elbow shot in on him, doesn't seem to shake Marleau up in any way, and doesn't even leave his feet. What is the world coming to when this merits a two game suspension? Grade inflation strikes everywhere, and it only hurts those who really want to express their inner maniac.
Cheap shot verdict: I've seen Victorian tea parties that were more vicious.
Brendan Witt (5 Game suspension)
Now, this is what I'm talking about! There is no way anyone can look at this play and not say, "What the fuck!?" It's as if Witt thought, "Hmm... I've lost my stick... Now is the perfect time to try out my slick MMA moves!" The fact he went after already wounded prey in the recently concussed Hagman, just puts the cherry on top of this craptasic sundae of a cheap shot. (And I could swear Witt is taunting Hagman as he is being helped from the ice trying desperately to remember how to say "I feel woozy" in Finnish.) Now, that's the insanity we need!
Cheap shot verdict: Game misconduct. Congratulations Mr. Witt! I'm sure you've made your momma proud.
Cam Janssen ($2500 fine.)
"Cam, Cam, buddy... give me a sec, eh? This is dangerously close to actual hockey. Hell, if you don't leave your feet it's a perfectly good shoulder check. No penalty was assessed on the play, and no one tried to beat the crap out of you....so there is nothing to see here of a cheap shot variety. Frankly Cam, I'm worried. You are really letting down the reputation of Eureka. If this keeps up you risk encouraging folks from Festus to make the trek to the land under the shadow of the Screaming Eagle to steal Eurekean women and double-wides. (I know, I know... I'm repeating myself.)"
Cheap shot verdict: Gimme a break. All I can think is someone at corporate had skimmed $2500 out of the players fund and needed it to be replaced quickly.
Sean Avery (Hung from the neck, cut down alive, Privy-Members and bowels removed & burnt before his eyes, head removed from body, body divided into four parts, $1000 fine)
OK, this turns out to be a difficult one. For starters, intent is ambiguous. Oh, he obviously meant to say what he said. Hell, I'm surprised he didn't issue a "Sloppy Seconds Press Release" to the media. No, the problem is two-fold: 1) Who exactly is the comment directed at? and 2) Is it in fact a cheap shot or the God's honest truth?
As for the target of the remark, really it could be either Elisha Cuthbert or Dion Phaneuf. So it is unlcear if Avery was suspended for offending the nearly helpless young lady or for offending the Canadian actress.
Aside from that fact, is this remark even in the realm of a cheap shot? Look, if you are a woman and you consent to fuck Sean Avery, by definition you are going to be "sloppy" for the foreseeable future. You could call the fire department to come and hose you off and you would still be tainted. Hell, even Avery knows this, which explains why he is so puzzled by Phanuef's wanting to climb aboard. Avery's remarks were actually fairly polite when you think about it. What his words meant was obviously something along the lines of, "Look, for the love of all that's holy, why would anyone want to touch anything my dick has touched? Have you seen me?"
Sounds like the God's honest truth to me.
Cheap shot verdict: Poor guy. Now whats left of him has been sentenced to play for the Rangers. It's hell on earth.
Tomas Plekanec (2 Game suspension)
I usually don't like to get involved with these Eastern European squabbles as they inevitably result in Germany invading France. But as the NHL has already weighed in...
Grebeshkov qualifies on the appropriate victim scale, barely. He is innocent as the driven snow (testified by his paltry 22 minutes in 71 games last year, and 22 PIM in 52 games this year. Chris Simon he isn't.) While he's not exactly a household name, he was at least a first round draft pick (18th overall by L.A. in 2002.)
The play itself, however, while reckless...looks like hockey. Oh, it definitely looks like a penalty, but a hockey penalty.
Cheap shot verdict: Minor penalty
Jason Blake ($1000 fine)
Oh, the headlines promises so much for the cheap shot afficionado. "Sid the Kid gets Speared!" Then you see the play and you realize you have been sadly duped. In Crosby we have the dream cheap shot victim, and I'm sure at some point in the future we shall see him take some absolutely cynical punishment. This isn't it.
For starters, it looks more like a poke from Blake than a spear. It is the sort of play that says "Hey, I got your attention!" rather than the "DIE!! ASSHOLE DIE!!!!!" we need for a real cheap shot. The fact that Crosby fell to the ice in a style reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote falling off a desert cliff doesn't help either.
Cheap shot verdict: LOL Come back when you have bruised internal organs.
Steve Ott (1 game suspension)
Are there any words in the cheap shot lexicon as sweet as "eye gouge"? I doubt it. I really doubt it. So, imagine my excitement when the NHL announced an "indefinite suspension" for Steve Ott while it investigated an "eye gouging incident." After seeing all of these cheap shot underachievers we were finally going to be given a classic crazy ass mother fucker. Or so we thought.
When the dust settles all we get is a one game suspension for Ott because, lets face it, there is no real evidence of an intentional eye gouge. Granted, when Moen is on the ice he begins to kick his legs like a 4 year old having a conniption in a Toys R Us, but even Moen said he wasn't sure if Ott meant to get at his eyes. Besides, Ott is basically jumped four on one in this. One should never feel sympathy for the cheap shot artist.
Cheap shot verdict: I'm declaring self defense.
Derek Boogaard (5 Game suspension)
Oh, so close yet so far! Yes, "big boned" Boogaard is throwing those elbows around with reckless disregard, the puck is nowhere near Prust when he is hit, and it comes in the last minute of a game in which the Wild (the fifth gay-est name in team sports) were barely competing... but it's Brandon Prust. Who was that again? Brandon Prust. Enough said.
The clip is mostly interesting to hear the Calgary media's low opinion of Dion Phaneuf. They said "Even Dion Phauef jumped into the fray." I heard, "Even as big a pussy as Dion Phaneuf jumped into the fray."
Cheap shot verdict: Double minor - though Boogaard shows great promise for turning into a crazy mofo in the future.
So that is it. Nine disciplinary actions by the league and only one honest to goodness classic cheap shot. Where is that old time hockey?
Sad days indeed.