Written by: Keith Ricci
Epic novels, plays and operas can all be broken down by what is known as dramatic structure. Dramatic structure in its most eloquent form contains five parts; 1) Exposition or Introduction, 2) Rising Action, 3) Climax, 4) Falling action, 5) Dénouement
Literary majors across many languages would all agree that this would be the easiest way to portray and explain all great human drama and struggle. The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been full of the kind of drama and struggle that Dickens, Faulkner and Hemingway would loathe to create because it carries with it only physical and irrational, nearly animalistic behavior that has made even long time aficionados of the sport second-guess what is the true essence of our obsession and whether or not this affliction may or not be healthy for our long term psyche. Let’s break it down in true Dramatic Structure. Hopefully this will make my freshman English teacher at Texas Tech, the one that kicked me out of class for being a bit of a smart ass, second-guess her decision. If anyone remembers what her name was, please forward it to her.
Good evening ladies and gents! Welcome to the first round of the NHL playoffs! There are 5.1 seconds left in the first game of the first round. The Nashville Predators are leading the dynasty of all hockey dynasties, the Detroit Red Wings by one goal and the whole hockey world is watching. This is it. The last stand for a proud franchise against the up and coming small, non-traditional market team. For those of us that watch all the time, it can’t get any better than this. For the casual or new fan you have to be thinking, “Wow! This is what all those puckheads are talking about!” Excitement, intensity, competition. The world’s best players going head to head for the ultimate prize. For the next two months, night in and night out… you won’t be able to hold your breath.
2) Rising Action
And then this happens…
As you can see Shea Weber took great exception to Mr. Zetterberg’s attempt to play the puck and made his distaste known by grabbing our friend Henrik by the back of the head and ramming his face in to the glass. Thankfully Henrik was okay but it was reported that his helmet was actually cracked during the incident. A penalty was called on the play and is the case with all penalties of this nature Mr. Weber’s actions were reviewed by the league.
Brendan Shanahan, A.K.A. the Shanahammer, was appointed last offseason as the Warden of NHL discipline. There were high hopes. A man of his stature and experience would surely be able to decide which hits and penalties should warrant punishment and which hits should or should not deserve a suspension. More importantly he would be able to easily relate his decisions to player, GM and fan alike. We would all agree and walk out of the decision room holding hands looking to buy the world a Coke. (This is what is considered plot development. It may seem like it belongs in the introduction but it does not. It helps define the rising action and is a segue into Climax, I digress.) We learned over the year that this was not to be the case. Whatever crazy mind meld that takes over anyone who works in the NHL punishment has gotten a hold of the Shanahammer as well. There is no consistency and no one knows what will and will not be considered punishable. So it should have come as no surprise that Shea Weber was not suspended and given only a $2500 fine, which in all fairness is the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. However $2500 is walking around money to Shea Weber, dinner on a Friday night out in Nashville with Mike Fisher, Carrie Underwood and their crazy country friends.
Shanahammer had set the tone,
“Let 'em fly boys! The warden is good mood and is going to look the other way!”
Which leads us to...
Over in the other conference the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins were squaring off in what most considered to be the Eastern conference finals. Two in-state rivals that don’t like each other and have been among the league leaders in penalty minutes the last two years, Philly lead the league this year and Pittsburgh was second last year, took their hatred and history to an all new level. Philly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series but the real story was the PIM’s. Game three alone included 38 penalties and 158 total minutes. The game was out of hand at 7-4 Flyers when James Neal went on a head hunting adventure. What ensued was WWE-like pandemonium with a line brawl and even featured the Hulkster himself.
Neal got one game despite leaving his feet twice and isolating the head on the second hit against, Claude Giroux, the Flyers' best player and likely league MVP. Mr. Neal seems to forget that his teammate and the NHL’s golden child, Sydney Crosby missed a year because of cheap hits like these.
Not to be outdone, the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks got into the mix with Andrew Shaw of Chicago putting an elbow to the head of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith. Shaw received a major for charging, a game misconduct and a 3 game vacation from Mr. Shanahan.
In St Louis, the Blues and Sharks in Game 2 of their series combined for 132 minutes including 15 penalties and 88 minutes at the final whistle with this exchange. It seems the whole league was turning in to the final scene from “Slap Shot." I was waiting for Ryan Kesler to start disrobing at center ice in Los Angeles when the whole thing finally came to a head in Chicago.
Longtime agitator and perennial most-hated-player-on-the-ice, Raffi Torres, did what Raffi does. Finally we have the Climax. Marian Hossa, a top ten player in the league, being wheeled off on a stretcher. When is enough enough?
4) Falling Action
Raffi was at first suspended indefinitely. He’s a repeat offender and seems to target star players. Last year he hit Brent Seabrook up high causing Seabrook to miss two games with a concussion. He received a penalty but no suspension. This year he was suspended twice for a total of five games for hits to the head.
Finally it all stopped. Hossa spent an evening in the hospital and is now resting at home with no timetable for his return. The games changed. The next two nights saw no suspensions, no fights, barley even a shoving match. The chaos seems to be over. The respect that old timers say no longer exists between players seemed to return as the image of Raffi Torres leaving his feet and Marian Hossa being carted off is burned in to the collective psyche of all of that love and appreciate the game.
Mr. Torres took a little trip to Toronto to visit Mr. Shanahan. Never a good sign for the player when the league calls and says we’d like to see you in person. Even grown ups can get called to the principal’s office. I think they even make you pay for your own flight. And sit in coach. No peanuts either.
The Shanahammer finally lived up to his name and dropped the second longest suspension in league history. 25 games second only to the 30 games that Chris Simon received for stomping a Penguin with his skate. Raffi will not be playing again this season and will miss the beginning of next year as well.
The whole thing feels a little like the end of “Lord of the Flies." The league was set free when Shanahan let go of the conch after the Weber hit on Zetterberg. The island went crazy and ran amok. Chaos ensued until someone got hurt. Now the league has been rescued but not by the same man who let it get this way but by the brutal violence he let run free. Raffi Torres will be the poster child for all of this mess but had Brendan Shanahan done his job and suspended Shea Weber on the first night of the playoffs none of this would have happened.
You’re the leader of this land of boys who are men, Mr. Shanahan. Hold tightly to the conch. The health of your sport and its players will be determined by the strength of your grasp on the interpretation of its rules, both the written and unwritten variety. You are the right man for the job, now be the leader we need you to be.
Written by: Matthew Blunk
The Philadelphia Flyers aren't the only NHL team keeping busy this summer.
One week after locking up left wing Taylor Hall with a seven-year contract, the Edmonton Oilers signed forward Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million extension. The newly "man-strong" Eberle posted 34 goals and 76 points in 78 during the 2011-12 season, in a breakout campaign for the 22-year-old right wing.
Written by: Matthew Blunk
Amidst the uncertainty of this NHL offseason, with murmurs of a potential lockout to come, the Philadelphia Flyers have signed two more players to long-term deals.
Philadelphia signed forward Wayne Simmonds to a 6-year, near $24 million extension on Aug. 16. On Monday, the Flyers agreed to extend forward Scott Hartnell with a 6-year, $28.5 million deal. …
Written by: Matthew Blunk
1) Evgeni Malkin, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
2) Sidney Crosby, C - Pittsburgh Penguins
3) Claude Giroux, C - Philadelphia Flyers
4) Steven Stamkos, F - Tampa Bay Lightning
5) Jonathan Quick, G - Los Angeles Kings
6) Alexander Ovechkin, F - Washington Capitals
7) Henrik Lundqvist, G - New York Rangers