THE NHL is not
just the league of missing teeth. At times it has suffered from a missing
spine, whether it's been a failure to come down hard on on-ice misdeeds or
players failing to police their labor leaders. But last week, in a surprising
and gratifying display of integrity that salvaged a potentially disastrous news
cycle, the league's brass said a resounding "No" to gratuitous
violence, and its players did the same to alleged union chicanery. It was not,
as hockey goes, business as usual.
NHL senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations,
certainly got it right in the sorry case of Chris Simon, the Islanders winger
who might have a career as a lumberjack if this hockey thing doesn't work out.
Simon poleaxed Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg with a two-handed swing to the jaw
last Thursday, sickening stick work that even a contrite Simon admitted has no
place in the game. Hollweg, who must have Kevlar stubble, took a few stitches
and actually returned to the match. Campbell could have punished the result
rather than the intent—little harm, little foul. Instead he went all hanging
judge, suspending Simon for the rest of the season and the playoffs, a minimum
of 25 games. In terms of games it's the longest ban ever imposed.
implicitly rejected Simon's variation of the Twinkie Defense: that his judgment
might have been impaired by a concussion sustained when Hollweg checked him
into the boards seconds earlier. Rather than feeling less like himself,
however, Simon might have been feeling more like himself. In his 14-year career
he has been suspended six times, twice for dangerous stick use. His ban won't
end hockey goonery—Toronto coach Paul Maurice noted the death penalty hasn't
halted murder—but it was most welcome, particularly since in the last two weeks
Campbell gave Ottawa's Chris Neil a pass for a late, concussive hit on
Buffalo's Chris Drury and suspended New Jersey's Cam Janssen just three games
for a cheap shot to the head of Toronto's Tomas Kaberle. The difference: Those
hits fell under the broad definition of hockey plays, while Simon's lunacy was
closer to Marty McSorley's stalking of Donald Brashear in 2000 and Todd
Bertuzzi's criminal assault of Steve Moore in '04, two severely punished acts
beyond the game.
members of the NHL Players Association also decided enough was enough. Since
Ted Saskin replaced Bob Goodenow as executive director 20 months ago, there has
been persistent grumbling about his leadership. Much of it is fallout from the
2004--05 lockout that ended when the players accepted a salary cap on top of a
24% salary rollback; there have also been whispers that the union's finances
have been mishandled. The tipping point came on March 5, when the Toronto Star
reported that police were investigating complaints that Saskin and union
official Ken Kim had monitored members' e-mails on the PA server, perhaps to
keep tabs on what the anti-Saskin camp was thinking. (No charges have been
filed.) Saskin acknowledged that e-mails were read but said the practice began
when Goodenow was in charge, and that he didn't learn about it until later.
denied spying, and the scandal gave the union's dissident faction more
ammunition. The membership was roiled by the charges that privacy had been
invaded. On Sunday night, after a conference call involving player
representatives and union officials, Saskin and Kim were placed on paid leaves
of absence. The union also hired lawyers to help them fire Saskin and avoid
paying his $2 million salary. "There'd always been complaints, but I've
never seen the PA recoil like this," one veteran player told SI.
The union should
know to keep a close eye on its leaders. In 1998 its first executive director,
Alan Eagleson, pleaded guilty to fraud for mishandling player funds and served
six months in prison. Goodenow, Eagleson's successor, promised he would wring
every possible dollar out of ownership, which he did until the disastrous
lockout, but his legacy will be tarnished if Saskin, once his top lieutenant,
successfully links him to Big Brother snooping. And Saskin's ascension to the
union throne always struck players such as Detroit's Chris Chelios as more of
an inside job than a hiring. There wasn't a proper search, just a hurried
promotion and an overly generous compensation package.
The players might
have rushed into Saskin, but they are likely to usher him out slowly but
forcefully so they can accomplish what they want without incurring a
wrongful-dismissal suit or having to pay a hefty severance. Hockey will no
longer take it on the chin.
ONLY AT SI.COM Get
a fresh version of Scorecard every weekday at SI.com/scorecard.