Volume 92, Issue 47
Thursday, November 26, 1998
NHL hitting rock bottom with goon league image
The National Hockey League has sunk to new levels and it arrived there on the back of Los Angeles Kings' resident goon Matt Johnson.
The St. Catharines native, in a fit of frustration and in an attempt to intimidate, rocked New York Rangers defenceman Jeff Beukeboom with a blind-side cheap shot this past Thursday. This sent the rugged defenceman crumpling to the ice, out cold before his head slammed off the slippery surface.
Johnson's move was one of the most cowardly acts in recent memory, especially considering the fact Beukeboom would have been willing to settle the matter toe to toe.
This, however, appears to be a retaliation against Beukeboom's attempt to kick the skates out from under Johnson's teammate Glen Murray. Johnson didn't like the way the Rangers were treating his team's skilled players and felt his job as enforcer was to inflict pain and punishment on somebody. Others believe it was out of embarrassment because he was earlier flattened by Ranger lightweight Alexei Kovalev.
Some where along the way though, Johnson lost his head and attempted to take off Beukeboom's.
And this is where the NHL sunk very deep. What happened to the days where there would be five guys on the ice willing to stand up for their teammates, not just one on a team?
Today, general managers and coaches are too afraid to let some of their better players chuck the knuckles so they bring in guys like Johnson, Tie Domi and the rest of the unskilled thugs with hands of stone. These guys have become professional boxers on skates.
There is nothing wrong with a good scrap between two good guys sticking up for their teammates, while playing a clean, physical brand of hockey.
For example, Larry Robinson in his days as a Montreal Canadien was not only dominant along the blue line with physical play and offensive flare but was willing to drop the gloves when one of his teammates like Guy LaFleur or even Denis Savard were ill-treated.
Even the legendary Ray Bourque was known to drop the occasional mitt, making sure his forwards had room to manuevre and confidence to go into the corners.
Today the corners are filled with many of the same dangers as there have always been but now players must worry if a cheap shot is coming instead of a crunching bodycheck.
Earlier this season, Andreas Dackel of the Ottawa Senators was flattened by a clean check from Eric Lindros, something Dackel probably could have avoided if he had kept his head up. But instead he lowered his head, out of fear of a high stick and his head was mashed into the glass.
Get rid of the goons and guys who can't throw a clean check. There will still be fights and high sticks but there will less incidents like this and better hockey all around. Most hockey fans love a good tilt, but more hockey fans love a fight when it is skilled players duking it out, rather than two goons facing off like prize fighters just because it's their job.
The NHL did the right thing by suspending Johnson for an unprecedented 12 games without pay. Hopefully, it will be a lesson learned by coaches and GMs that goons have no place in the NHL and the league can get back to playing actual hockey.
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