DENVER – If the NHL owners are going to take a big hit someday in a concussion lawsuit filed by the players, they might as well try to change the dynamic of the game itself.
That was apparent this week when Washington goon Tom Wilson was suspended 20 games (and $1.26 million in salary) for his cheap shot hit on St. Louis forward Oskar Sundqvist.
In a nutshell, the league looks to be cracking down on players more and more with repeat offenses.
The league message? We can’t have you players injuring each other in such violent fashion and then come dragging us into the courtroom to complain about it.
Most of us usually only see Wilson when he plays against the Flyers and it seems like once a game he’s involved in a questionable play.
So in the final preseason game, Wilson drops a bomb on an unsuspecting Sundqvist, breaking his jaw and causing who knows how much damage to his brain and nervous system.
It’s not the first time Wilson has put a player’s career in jeopardy.
A few years back, Wilson launched himself into Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. Wilson never got a suspension for what amounted to a career-ending dirty play.
In handing down the suspension, NHL Department of Player Safety George Parros pointed out that this incident occurred just 16 games after Wilson’s previous one and is his fourth suspension in the past 105 games.
An “unprecedented frequency of suspensions,’’ Parros said.
Some might point out that hockey is a collision sport and injuries are inevitable.
But players like Wilson take advantage of the NHL’s soft stance on meant-to-harm hits.
If the NHL really wanted to put some teeth in its rules, it should have suspended Wilson for an entire season (or 82 consecutive games, if the incident had taken place in-season).
Second violation? A lifetime ban.
Players, coaches, general managers, fans, media. . .everybody knows who the dirty players are and they all know what constitutes premeditated attempt to injure.
Sure, this is a sport that still allows fighting. It still allows all sorts of other fouls.
But when you take away a man’s livelihood the way Wilson did with Visnovsky and then attempted to repeat with Sundqvist, it’s time to go.
Tom Wilson, we don’t need your type in this sport.
Gritty: A marketing miracle
Say what you want about the Flyers’ new mascot, Gritty; love it or hate it, the concept is pure marketing genius.
Yes, it’s a strange lookin’ dude (like the Phillie Phanatic is Brad Pitt?) and it’s not as clever as the San Diego Chicken (who is?).
But what got me was how quickly it became a national media/celebrity sensation.
Steve Colbert one night, Jimmy Fallon the next. Then it turns up on HBO’s John Oliver show and a guest appearance on Conan O’Brien.
The young fans down at the Wells Fargo Center seem to have taken a liking to Gritty and why not? He’s so unconventional looking, he’s almost lovable.
While the novelty might wear off after a while, Gritty should last a little longer than the one-year stint of the ill-fated Slap Shot back in 1976.
Fourth line important
Over the past few seasons, the Flyers really haven’t got much out of their fourth line and at times it’s almost been a liability.
Taking it one step farther, a couple of these guys are regulars on the penalty kill, which the Flyers know has to improve this year after finishing 29th last season.
A key to a possible resurgence could be the play of Michael Raffl, who has started the season on the fourth unit with Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera.
This trio got off to a good start the other night, with Laughton scoring a goal and Raffl getting an assist. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ kill was a perfect three for three.
Raffl has played on all four lines during his career in Philadelphia and that sort of experience can pay dividends here.
“We played our role pretty well and getting a goal was pretty big,’’ Raffl said after Saturday morning’s skate at the Pepsi Center. “Playing with those two guys, they have lots of skill and it makes it easy.
“This is something to build on. I’ve played all over. That’s kind of my role here. I enjoy it. We’ve got good chemistry going now.”
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