Racist incident at preaseason game tops five hot topics
The NHL isn't to blame for Thursday's racist incident, but it was bad publicity
New discipline czar Brendan Shanahan's video debut was a shrewd move
When he returns, Sidney Crosby may not be as vulnerable as many people think
Let's not cast blame on the NHL for one lone moron's actions, but Thursday night's incident in London, Ontario -- where a fan threw a banana peel at Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who is black -- is just the kind of publicity that hockey doesn't need. The league, to its credit, has worked tirelessly in recent years to open up the sport to minorities through its "Hockey is for Everyone" initiatives.
A sport that was once almost exclusively Caucasian has seen many talented African Americans and Canadians enter its ranks to the benefit of all. Thursday's disgraceful action by a yet-to-be-identified person won't set all progress back to Square One, but it doesn't help.
St. Louis Blues winger Chris Stewart, who was born in Toronto, the son of a Jamaican immigrant father, considers Simmonds his best friend in the game. The two have shared a house together in the Toronto area, in fact. On his Twitter feed Thursday night, Stewart said, "The incident that happened in London tonight involving my best friend Wayne Simmonds was simply disgusting, its 2011 ppl need to grow up."
Colorado Avalanche winger Greg Mauldin, who is African-American, tweeted Stewart in agreement, calling it "bull."
"It's an unfortunate incident," Mauldin told SI.com on Friday morning. "But I think it was an isolated incident. I don't think that speaks for the entire hockey community. There's a lot of great hockey fans out there, so one person shouldn't tarnish that."
Mauldin also echoed something that Simmonds expressed after the incident. "Growing up, it's something you learn to deal with," he said. "You get isolated incidents here and there, but that's just the way it is sometimes and otherwise I don't think it's anything pervasive in the game."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in a statement on Friday morning, said: "We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game. The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario."
London mayor Joe Fontana apologized to Simmonds on behalf of the city, calling it a "stupid and mindless act by a single individual."
Let's hope that individual is identified -- and someone in that building no doubt saw it and knows that person -- so that he/she can get the public shaming they deserve. And the offender better hope justice is dispensed by the anonymous (by request) Flyer who told The Philadelphia Daily News, "I would have went and kicked that fan's (butt) myself. That's just not right."
Having the photogenic, well-respected Brendan Shanahan deliver video explanations for suspensions -- which he started Thursday night in the case of Calgary's Pierre-Luc-Letourneau-Leblond (say that five times fast) -- is a smart move by the suits in the NHL front offices. Instead of the usual short, tossed-off press releases for often controversial disciplinary decisions, we now can see the league's discipline chief himself go over the infraction and give us his explanation for his decision. Shanahan's careful point-by-point analysis of Leblond's hit from behind on Vancouver's Matt Clackson was a good tutorial not just for the novice fans who were watching, but also for longtime hockey buffs who have often been confused by past rulings.
Shanahan then did himself one better by suspending Philadelphia's Jody Shelley 10 games for his boarding of Toronto's Darryl Boyce. My colleague Stu Hackel breaks down that call here and salutes Shanahan's gutsy debut as the NHL's new sheriff.
An awful lot of media people out there apparently have medical degrees, because a lot of assumptions are being made about Sidney Crosby's return to action. As the Penguins superstar continues to recover from the two concussions that ended his 2010-11 season too soon, some in the national hockey media have opined that his production will likely take a dip when/if he returns. But it's important to listen to the real doctors on this issue. One of the biggest experts in the country on concussions, Dr. Robert Cantu from the Boston University School of Medicine, says the perception that concussion victims have higher chances of re-injury and are susceptible to increasingly worse symptoms is just plain wrong.
"Those of us who see many hundreds of concussion patients each year realize that each concussion is unique to the individual," Cantu told SI recently. "Successive concussions are not necessarily worse. There is not a way that you can say of somebody who had five concussions that his sixth will necessarily be worse. If you recover completely from a concussion that's been properly managed, the next one you receive may not be worse."
The medical facts of the matter indicate that there is no higher chance that Crosby will get another concussion than any other player once he recovers fully from this one, and that's the key. Too many players in the past probably didn't fully recover before they took the ice for games again. Dr. Cantu says that does increase the chance of even worse effects upon re-injury.
Crosby and the Penguins are going about his recovery and return the right way. When his injury fully heals -- optimism is high that it will -- there's no reason to suspect that Crosby won't be the same dynamic player he's always been.
We know that the top-three 2011 draft picks -- Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau (assuming they make their respective teams) -- will be leading candidates for rookie of the year. Here are three dark horses that just might steal the trophy:
1. Nino Neiderreiter, Islanders -- How about that name for a PA man to yell after a goal? Expect the Isles' PA man to yell it a lot this season.
2. Stefan Elliott, Avalanche -- The 2009 second-round pick set the all-time WHL career scoring mark for defensemen at Saskatoon last season, was a plus-62 and has had a good training camp so far.
3. Tim Erixon, Rangers -- Calgary could very well regret sending this big, two-way defenseman to Glen Sather last season. He's got two years of Swedish pro experience and scouts bring up his name a lot when asked about potential impact rookies.
1. Davis Payne, Blues -- Lots of pressure on the Blues to make the playoffs this season. A poor first half and Payne will most likely be the first to fall.
2. Joe Sacco, Avalanche -- Entering the third and final year of his contract, Sacco has one playoff berth and one 29th-place showing on the resume. He'll be judged most by upper management on how this third year goes.
3. Pete DeBoer, Devils -- Tongue-in-cheek here? A guy in the first year of his contract already on the hot seat? His boss is Lou Lamoriello -- case closed.