On Seabrook's hit: We're missing the point

Seabrook will get three games.

One game each for charging, elbowing and head contact. Add another because a player was injured and knock a game off for Seabrook's eight-year track record of suspension-free hockey. Check this box, circle that number, sign here. Call a defenseman up from Rockford and continue this highly entertaining best-of-seven playoff series.

It's the way the NHL player safety office operates and the process analysts like Jeremy Roenick, Eddie Olczyk and Barry Melrose have done their best to predict in the 18 hours since Brent Seabrook's dirty hit on David Backes took the Blues captain out of game two of a hotly contested series.

But whether Seabrook sits out five games or one, we're missing the point and failing to address the real problem.

Forget whether Seabrook's feet were or were not on the ice, where he made contact on the shoulder-elbow continuum and whether or not David Backes had the puck. Focus instead of the fact that Seabrook circled back into the corner with the sole intent of obliterating an opponent -- not making a hockey play.

It's the culture of the big hit. The plays made for the cheers, the "ooooohhhs," the fans banging on the glass and the story in the locker room. They're hits made not to separate a man from the puck or improve your team's chances to win the hockey game, but to humble an opposing player and boost your own street cred.

And as hockey constantly struggles to shake its Hanson Brother and Doug Glatt-perpetuated image of violence, fisticuffs and missing teeth, Seabrook's is the hit the NHL needs to eliminate.

As the Blackhawks defenseman zeroed in on Backes yesterday, nobody was worried about actually playing the game. If Seabrook wanted to separate Backes from the puck, he would have noticed Backes never actually had it in the first place. If the other Hawks on the ice were concerned about the win, they would have chastised their own for saddling them with the difficult task of killing a five-minute penalty with a one-goal lead in a crucial game as they instead taunted an opponent who could hardly stand on his own two feet.

It's the same hit that Raffi Torres made on Marian Hossa two years ago. It's a major problem in our game and a disturbing mentality that permeates contact sports today.

Yesterday Seabrook was the free safety who launches himself head-first into a crossing receiver. He hits high, doesn't even try to wrap up and celebrates with his teammates after crushing a defenseless airborne pass catcher. Never mind the offense gained 25 yards on the reception. That'll become 40 yards after you tack on the personal foul. And there's another human being struggling stumble back to his own huddle.

To its credit, the NHL does a decent job of trying to police this play. The NFL punishes a dirty play by docking 15 minutes' pay and politely asking a goon not to do it again. Seabrook will sit out two or three of the most important games of his team's season. He could get as many as five games, which would be a fair punishment if Backes cannot return by the end of this series.

And Seabrook isn't a goon. He's a generally clean, tough and up-standing hockey player. So is David Backes, but even the cleanest of players have trouble laying off on the dirtiest of hits.

The game nurtures a taste for blood and it starts early. When I was playing peewees and bantams, the earliest youth levels where you could then legally body check, we began our contact hockey careers hitting each other for no reason other than hitting each other. The puck being at your opponent's feet was nothing more than the excuse you needed to run into him. We'd light each other up and worry about the puck later.

We weren't six-foot-three, 220-pound Seabrook-ian monsters flying around the ice at mach two, so the concussions were few and far between. But the excitement of the big hit -- and the sick joy you take from seeing an opponent on his knees -- didn't go away as we got older.

I eventually quit playing in our high school league after two seasons, deciding to suit up only for our local house league. In the high school league it had gotten to the point where you the crowd cheered for the brutal body check, not the beautiful cross-ice pass or the goal saving poke check.

Increasingly the locker conversations became more about who laid out whom than the final score. The forechecks had become about decimating the back checker, not getting to the puck. By then we had grown into bodies capable of inflicting some real damage, but we hadn't grown out of the "hit somebody to hit somebody" mentality.

And as Seabrook showed yesterday, some players never do.

Update, 3:15 p.m.: Seabrook did, in fact, get a three-game suspension. It was assessed using similar reasoning to what I outlined above. You can view the video that player safety released here. But still. That's not the point.

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