Friday, December 18, 2009

Patrick Kaleta Needs His Brain Too

A few other bloggers have already discussed the Jarkko Ruutu hit on Patrick Kaleta and the lack of a suspension so I was going to pass on the whole thing, but it's really bothering me, and hey, I started this blog partly to express my opinion.  This might be a little all over the place.  We'll see.

I, like most fans, have grown accustomed to rolling my eyes at the NHL's erraticly applied discipline, but the lack of a suspenion here makes me genuinely furious and the more I watch the hit, the more upset I get.  Ruutu skates past Kaleta's body and hits him solely and directly in the head.  If that's not a head shot, what the heck is?  Every excuse anyone has ever used - the players were both moving at top speed, the victim turned his back at the last second, the victim had his head in a bad spot - can be tossed out because none of them apply.  And you know what, I'm sick of those excuses anyway.  Good grief, wake up, NHL.  If you can demand a player be responsible with his stick, demand that he be responsible with his body too.  Quit trying to make things safer by adjusting the equipment and do something to change the behavior.

The Bob McKenzie commentary on the Ruutu hit has been commented on in a few places too, namely Bfloblog and Sabres Edge, but I think it bears repeating that it was awful.  I understand McKenzie was saying Ruutu should be suspended and was merely speculating that the league might not do so, but almost everything else he said was garbage.  For him to report that Kaleta came back in the game when he didn't play a single second of hockey after getting hit is the epitome of irresponsibility in reporting especially since that was a major part of his argument in why the league might not hand out a suspension.  There is zero excuse for not getting that right and there is zero excuse for no one correcting that on the air.

What offended me much more however was McKenzie's tosssed off comment about never knowing whether Kaleta is really hurt or not.  Look, I'll be the first person to agree that Kaleta is no angel on the ice.  I've questioned his game many times over the last couple of seasons.  I think overall he's been much more responsible this season, but I understand that he earned his reputation fair and square, and I understand that those reputations, once developed, are hard to shake.  But one thing I've never seen Kaleta do is milk an injury.  To hang that kind of reputation on a player who doesn't deserve it is ridiculous.  Again, extremely irresponsible.  He missed a lot of time last season with neck problems so yeah, his head going into the boards might have done some damage.  Then again, in TSN's world, Kaleta went back in the game.

This evening James Mirtle linked to a story in the Globe and Mail about a study of former athletes' brains and how there's now proof of hockey concussions leading to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, basically degenerative brain disease.  The hockey player in question, Reggie Fleming, was in his 70s and played before helmets and improved safety equipment, but considering how hard some of that improved equipment is, how much bigger the players are now, how much faster the game is, I don't know how anyone can read this article (which I recommend you do) or others like it without being concerned.  Some of the effects of concussions mentioned are sensitivity to light, noise and motion, emotional outbursts, inability to concentrate, loss of memory, depression, and potential links to Parkinsons, strokes, and dementia.  Even the less severe symptoms are scary.  Think about how hard it would be to get through a day if light, noise, and motion bothered you.  The story states that the NHL has officially reported more than 10 concussions while unofficially, there are reports that number is more than double.  I'm gonna go with the unofficial number there.

I'm sick and tired of the star player/scrub double standard.  In the McKenize clip above, Keith Jones starts strong by saying he doesn't care about Kaleta's reputation, but when they move on to the David Koci hit on Mike Green, he argues that Koci should get at least five games because he hit a star player.  That's crap.  I don't even want to hear it.  I understand that Kaleta is not as valuable to the league as Sidney Crosby.  I do.  Crosby being forced to retire due to a head shot would be a huge story and Kaleta would be a blip on the screen.  But head shots and concussions go far beyond the ice and into a player's quality of life, and Patrick Kaleta deserves the same quality of life as every other player in the league no matter how much other fans hate him.  You care about all the players or you care about none of them.  Judging by the NHL's decision here, I'm forced to conclude that they don't care and that almost makes me feel bad for being a fan of their product.

ETA: Just read this story from Mike Harrington, and I'm appalled at the league's attitude that there was no noticeable injury on the play. Are you kidding me? Because Kaleta didn't bleed it doesn't count? He didn't finish the game. He's having neck and vision problems. The fact that the NHL could overlook symptoms like that goes to show that all the talk about head shots and concussions is just that. Talk. Can't see the damage to a brain so it's cool.

17 comments:

Vanek's Hair said...

You have hit a real hot button issue with me with this post. So I am apologizing in advance for going all gasbag, which I have a habit of recently on the comment section.

The NHL is an absolute joke with its "discipline." Yes, that word should be in quotes because the way they handle it is despicable. I am sick of how so many cheap shots end up being the fault of the player. "Keep your head up" "He embellished" and all that other crap. You hit the nail on the head. Why does the league implement strict liability with high sticking but have some super secret magical formula with every other garbage hit on the ice. I don't care about how fast the players move. NFL players move very fast too. And just about any hit to the head in the NFL is followed by a hefty fine (which as an aside, is a much greater deterrent than a suspension). The NFL fines players for head shots when no flag is thrown.

I don't want to hear about putting skirts on the players, or making it figure skating (seriously, is that the best counter they have, an all or nothing fallacy?). Get in your Trans Am and crank the Def Leppard. You belong in 1984.

I truly don't think the NHL will ever be taken seriously as a league until it gets it house in order. I really like the NBA model, where David Stern (for purposes of league discipline, a last name and an adjective) suspends players and allows them appeal, and denies it.

Ruutu has terrible history of crap like that. I don't care if Kaleta has a bad reputation (He does). But if a career criminal murders another career criminal, the murder goes to jail (OK, that's a bit of drastic hyperbole). It's a joke.

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Jim said...

I think this is an unfortunate case of what I call 'reverse star treatment', on two different fronts actually. On one side I will argue that if you apply the same hit on the likes of Ovechkin or Crosby, Ruutu gets 5 games not 5 minutes. Also on another side, this is more prevalent in basketball but can be applied here as well, the refs and execs calling the reaction not the play. For instance, Kobe drives for a layup throws up a bad shot and gives his token bitch-face somebody hurt me look. Subconsciously the refs automatically blow the whistle assuming that in no way does Kobe throw up a doo-doo shot without getting fouled. A long-winded explanation, but in this case, you said it yourself, they're even questioning "how bad" he was hurt. That's calling the reaction...calling the fact that it doesn't look all that vicious on the surface and that, I don't know, there's no blood?!

Either way it's an egregious miscalculation on the NHL's part. Like you said (in a way) Ruutu is a proved D-bag...just because there are a few who would say the same about Kaleta doesn't give the NHL a free pass to look the other way. Dirty is dirty no matter the details.

dani said...

Well said.

Mike said...

Great post. I just don't understand how the league can make such a big deal on contact to the head this year, then ignore an obvious headshot by a player known to be dirty. Yeah sure, he was fined. How much? $1000? $5000? Fines mean nothing to players.

I think the final count on games Kaleta missed last year due to head and neck injuries was 27. Players who milk injuries don't sit out for 27 games. Thank you for pointing out the ridiculousness of suggesting that Kaleta embellished his injury.

McKenzie did admit he was wrong about Kaleta returning to the game, but only on Twitter, so millions of TSN viewers who don't know what a Twitter is still take his words as gospel in this case.

This league continues to be a joke.

Phil said...

Can I just ask Mairsy at the next open skate to slew foot McKenzie during the Olympic break?

Mark B said...

Great post. I have come to the conclusion that the NHL really does not care about headshots. Ryan Miller made the point a few weeks ago that they were not really focusing on it as much as other issues like the size of the goalie equipment. Goalie equipment for God's sake!!

They're giving this topic lip service to pretend they care, but really don't. I hate to say it, but perhaps a player's death or permanent serious injury will change something. But maybe not even then. Shameful.

Caroline said...

Hear, hear! Great post, Heather.

I was pretty upset when I heard McKenzie's argument, because his facts were 100% wrong...makes him look like a fool.

It's sad that season after season, these issues are still a problem. A player goes head hunting on someone else, and just gets a slap on the wrist and fans are sitting there wondering what the hell it's going to take to get some more action done on these potentially disastarious hits to the head.

Stopping blatant hits to the head should be the number 1 priority for the NHL, and for it to be not, well I really have no explanation as to why it isn't.

Tim said...

If you watch closely, Ruutu hits Kaleta's shoulder first -- albeit very slightly -- before hitting his head with his shoulder. I'm just guessing here, but maybe that factored into the NHL's decision not to suspend him?

I thought, given Ruutu's past history, that he'd be out for a minimum of 2 games.

I think the NHL needs to publish some sort of "suspension scale." A hit to the head is x points, leaving your feet is another x points, etc. An infraction of more than 5 points is a 5 game suspension or something. I know this will never happen, but I'd like to see some transparency so the league doesn't look like such a joke when it comes to suspensions.

And I'm a Sens fan...

Art Vandelay said...

I'll be worried about Kaleta's quality of life after hockey when he starts showing an ounce of concern for his fellow players' quality of life after hockey.
Live by the boarding, die by the boarding.

Shelby Rose said...

Wonderful post, Heather. I think you've hit the nail on the head with how most of us feel about the non-suspension.

This league is such a joke. I hate how they aren't consistent with who gets suspended, who gets fined, and who gets a slap on the wrist. I don't care if you're a star player and you hit someone in the head. You should be suspended either way for what happened and if there was any intent to injure someone. The Ruutu hit was clearly an intent to hit Patty in the head. His shoulder went right up into his face.

Kathleen said...

Eeeeeee! Heather, you made Puck Daddy's lunchtime links, and very well deserved. I don't think anyone's said it better.

The response from the league and media is outrageous. I honestly thought there would be something of an outcry considering the brazenness of the attack and that it was frequent offender Ruutu; instead, "it's just Kaleta" and sweep sweep, under the carpet.

The League has shown it is unwilling to deal with this, the media only cares if a star is involved, and I don't trust the GMs to pay much more than lip service to it in their meeting (even though it would be in their best interest to address this seriously). I feel like the best push for a serious resolution will have to come from the players/former players. Ryan Miller, Pat LaFontaine, and others have had intelligent things to say. Maybe the selection of a new NHLPA exec will be the first step.

Heather B. said...

Thanks, guys and girls, for all the passionate and thoughtful comments. A few replies:

Tim, I can kind of see what you're talking about after watching the video again, but I don't know, to me if Ruutu wanted to hit Kaleta in the body he could have. Whether he intended to hit him in the head or not, I can't really say for sure... but I think it's questionable enough that a suspension was called for. I'll probably write more about this at some point, but I'm just about ready to toss out intent anyway. Whether Player X intended to hit Player Y in the face with his stick or not, Player X gets a penalty. I don't see why it shouldn't be the same for something that's potentially much more dangerous. (And I know, Tim, that you were just expressing your opinion on why the league didn't go with a suspension and not agreeing with a lack of suspension yourself. I just used your comment as a jumping off point there.)

I'll be worried about Kaleta's quality of life after hockey when he starts showing an ounce of concern for his fellow players' quality of life after hockey.

That's exactly the kind of attitude I'm tired of and a huge part of the reason things have gotten so bad, I think. Sometimes Kaleta is reckless. I don't deny that and never have. I haven't had a problem with a single suspension he's received and in the past his game has made me very queasy at times. But the fact that he doesn't always use his brain doesn't mean his brain shouldn't be as protected as everyone else's in the league, and I'd say the same thing if he'd made that hit on Ruutu and gone undisciplined. If the NHL is going to protect anyone (i.e. stars), it needs to protect everyone regardless of who that person is and what kind of style they play. I don't think it's wrong for Kaleta or the team that employs Kaleta to expect or even demand that.

(On a total side note, for the Kaleta fans, I will stress that I think he's been much more responsible and more of an all-around hockey player so far this season. Keep in mind that that is practically impossible for non-Sabres fans to know however since all they'll see are the questionable hits. Of course, it doesn't help that someone like Bob McKenzie is out there unfairly making Kaleta's rep worse.)

For me, this isn't just about Patrick Kaleta. It's about every player who is unappreciated and therefore unprotected by the NHL. It could be because he's a douchebag, it could because he's not a star, it could because he plays in a market no one cares about. Whatever the reason, I'm tired of there always being an excuse to look the other way. We've heard league officials go on incessantly for the last couple of seasons about how much they want to get head shots out of the game, how concerned they are about concussions. I don't understand how people can talk like that and look at a hit like Ruutu's, directly to the head, and shrug and say, "Well, it wasn't THAT bad." The hypocrisy involved is my problem. Kaleta just happens to be the guy involved here.

Katebits said...

I think intent should be entirely removed from the equation except for in those very rare cases when someone does something truly psycho. It's way too hard to judge, and almost every hit can be justified away when you start analyzing it frame-by-frame.

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