Chris Neil – Hockey Coward
(October 7) Last night, the New York Rangers proved that the Ottawa Senators aren’t as good a hockey team as the media reports predicted. Despite a miserable performance, a lack of intensity, no offensive presence and a horrible defensive effort, the Rangers lost to Ottawa by a mere 2–0. Both Ottawa goals came in less than one minute of each other and were gifts resulting from bad defensive plays by the Rangers. Although Henrik Lundqvist let in one soft goal, he was brilliant against the highly-touted Ottawa team.
The story of the night, however, was the cheap shot by Chris Neil on Sean Avery, resulting in an apparent dislocated shoulder for Avery. Neil blind-sided Avery, who did not see Neil and was totally defenseless. The referees, playing “homey” for the Ottawa crowd, simply gave Neil a two-minute elbowing penalty and ignored the deliberate intent to injure Avery.
First of all, let’s not have any illusions about Sean Avery. He is a pest and is like a burr under a horse’s saddle or a pebble in your shoe. He knows how to stir the pot and mix things up. He is hardly a hockey angel. Yet his injury is the perfect example of why the NHL and its referees remain horribly inconsistent.
First, as this incident involves a Canadian team, there will likely be no action taken by the NHL. The NHL has been remarkably lenient with Canadian teams and its players when it comes to flagrant misconduct. And with Ottawa following up its trip to the Stanley Cup finalks last season, they embody the hope that the Cup might return to Canada for the first time since the Montreal Canadians’ victory following the 1992-1993 season.
Secondly, Chris Neil’s reputation for cowardly, cheap shots is well-documented. He has managed to escape severe punishment time and time again. Ottawa fans (and other NHL fans) might take exception about the anger of Ranger fans at the Neil hit because the Rangers have their own bad boy in Ryan Hollweg, Another “excuse” is that the Neil hit was on Sean Avery, and everybody hates Avery. However, regardless of who the hit was against, the penalty for a deliberate intent to injure must be levied against Neil.
Third, the lack of leadership by Gary Bettman and the personal prejudice of Colin Campbell have yet to make hockey a safer game. As much as “old-timers” like myself miss the bumping, grinding and toughness of the era before players wore helmets and face shields, we must also recognize that players are bigger, faster and stronger. Even with two referees on the ice, it is getting harder to protect the players from serious, career-threatening injuries.
Finally, an abrupt bias has already reared its ugly head for the Rangers after two games. Other teams will obviously target Sean Avery with cheap shots and taunting. Even worse is that the refs have already decided that the Rangers will get a penalty whenever Avery is involved in some miuschief, even when initiated by the other team. When Avery received a cheap shot on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, the refs gave Paul Mara a bizarre four-minute penalty that negated what should have been a power play for the Rangers. This continues a pattern that was evident last season.
Ranger fans can take some solace in the fact that Jason Strudwick beat the hell out of Neil after he threw another cheap shot against Petr Prucha. Neil was bleeding profusely, but that is hardly a payback for the injury to Avery that should sideline him for six to eight weeks.
Only one solution seems fair. When there is a cheap shot like Neil’s that is an obvious intent to injure, the player should be suspended for the duration of the other player’s injury plus an additional twenty (20) games. Such a rule is simple, takes the guesswork out of the punishment and would act as a deterrent to cowards like Neil.
Of course, there is another solution from the “good old days” of the NHL. If Rangers coach Tom Renney was an SOB like Buffalo Sabre coach Lindy Ruff, he would have sent his fourth line out to go after Ottawa stars Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. If the NHL doesn’t take action against Neil this week, the return match against Ottawa at Madison Square Garden next Saturday (10/13) could be a bloodfest.
It is really up to the NHL. What do you think they will do?
Chris Neil’s Cheap Shot Sidelines New York Ranger Pest Sean Avery October 7, 2007
Chris Neil – Hockey Coward