League's violence policy needs to be consistent

ON THE NHL

December 07, 1993|By SANDRA McKEE

If the NHL wants to wipe out "senseless and unnecessary" violence, then it should lay down the law -- consistently -- and follow it.

It is NHL senior vice president Brian Burke's job to discipline players who hit and strike outside the rules. It is not an easy job; it is a thankless job. No matter what Burke does, someone is going to disagree.

He is trying to be fair, efficient and prompt in responding to incidents.

Burke said: "The senseless stuff has to go. It has to slow down. It hasn't yet. But it's a new standard of discipline. It takes time to alter a guy's thinking."

The problem with all that prompt, efficient fairness is that it is too arbitrary.

Burke says there is a difference between a high stick with a minute to go in a 9-1 game and a high stick in the closing minute of a game tied 1-1. He says there are different degrees of head-butts and slashes.

When Toronto's Doug Gilmour head-butted Washington's Enrico Ciccone during the preseason, he was given a suspension of one preseason game because Burke said it didn't look like a serious head-butt. "I don't think he meant to hurt him," said the VP.

When Tampa Bay's Denis Savard and Chicago's Steve Smith tried to slash each other to ribbons after a Nov. 26 game, they each got five games. Certainly, the intent in this one was clear. No one, fortunately, got hurt.

Last Thursday, Burke called a cheap hit by New York Ranger Alexei Kovalev on Washington's Dale Hunter "senseless and unnecessary" and suspended him five games. Kovalev had skated up behind Hunter, taken Hunter's legs out from under him during a quiet moment on the ice and caused Hunter to tear a medial collateral ligament that could sideline him up to six weeks.

Hunter had only two days earlier returned from serving a 21-game suspension handed out by commissioner Gary Bettman for a cheap shot on New York Islander Pierre Turgeon in last season's playoffs.

Capitals general manager David Poile says he is satisfied Burke has been consistent in his handling of punishments. Capitals coach Terry Murray believes the 21-game suspension handed out by Bettman on Hunter, before Burke's arrival at the league office, is not relevant to current suspensions because Burke is handling discipline, not Bettman.

"Maybe the players should show more caution," added Murray. "Maybe it's the players who should show more respect for each other. There are a lot of players on the sidelines [injured] this season."

Burke says he is on the same wavelength as Bettman. Given the same set of circumstances that existed in the Hunter-Turgeon case -- a late hit after a goal against a player who is celebrating and totally unprotected -- Burke said he "might well impose a 21-game suspension -- or more. I would use it again in a second."

But he didn't use it last week.

Burke says the Hunter-Turgeon and Kovalev-Hunter incidents are not similar. "One is a guy going into the post office with a machine gun and the other is a purse snatching," said Burke. "Kovalev could take Hunter's legs out from under him 15 more times and never have it result in injury."

Someone please explain how these two statements go together. How, on one hand, can it be said that needless violence must be wiped out, and, on the other, it be rationalized that because another form of needless violence may, fortunately, not cause an injury it is a less violent act?

If cutting down senseless violence is the goal, then a high stick is a high stick, a late hit a late hit. The potential for injury is there in all of them. Isn't that the bottom line?

Best of the week

Winnipeg Jets left wing Keith Tkachuk, a Melrose, Mass., native, led all NHL scorers last week and has earned NHL Player of the Week honors. Tkachuk rolled up 11 points -- six goals, five

assists -- in four games. The Jets went 2-1-1.

Marauding Pirates

A trip through Canada's Maritime Provinces is usually rough on an American Hockey League team, but the Portland Pirates (formerly Baltimore Skipjacks) are holding their own. Portland is 3-2 on a trip that ends tonight at Atlantic Division-leading St. John's. The Pirates, 19-7-2 and tops in the Northern Division, have 40 points, best in the league. Goalie Byron Dafoe (13-4-1 and best in the league) is alternating with Olie Kolzig (3-1) on this trip.

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