Enough is enough.
The National Hockey League chose not to discipline Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik for his injury-intended knee-on-knee hit with Derek Stepan in the third period of Thursday’s game at the CONSOL Energy Center. They did not even bother to hold a disciplinary hearing over the phone for Orpik to discuss his dirty move – one they are supposedly trying to remove from the game all together. The League wasted no time laying down a $20,000 fine to Rangers head coach John Tortorella after he furiously lashed out against the Pittsburgh Penguins organization afterward, however. A $20,000 fine for speaking his mind on what should’ve been a multi-game suspendable hit that Derek Stepan was lucky to walk away (at least we think) uninjured from? Even to the most casual of fans, something there doesn’t sound right.
The NHL has been called out many a-time on their bias towards the Pittsburgh Penguins and owner Mario Lemieux. Commissioner Gary Bettman singlehandedly revived the franchise by allegedly staging the draft lottery so that the Pens ended up with the first overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft just after the lockout year. That pick was used to reel in superstar Sidney Crosby, who continues to be the face of the franchise and the League to this very day.
Helping to get the Penguins organization back on their feet was clearly not satisfying enough for Mr. Bettman, though. Since 2005, the NHL - as in Bettman and company - has formed a protective forcefield around Crosby and the Pens. We’ve repeatedly witnessed the one-sided officiating and league-wide decisions that always seem to favor Pittsburgh. We’ve seen Crosby and his club pushed to the Stanley Cup Finals in back-to-back years. We’ve even seen him appear in two Winter Classic games before a majority of the league was able to participate in one.
All of that alone warrants a complaint and even outrage to a degree, but what occurred over the past two days has put the love affair between the NHL and the Pittsburgh Penguins at an all-time high. It’s to the point where Bettman no longer feels the need to attempt to disguise or hide the favoritism.
What John Tortorella said on Thursday night was the 100-percent accurate truth. It was a statement that has been on the minds of fans, players, coaches and management throughout the league for a number of years now, but he was the first to build up the courage to come out and publicly say it.
Tortorella knew that that there would be no further discipline beyond the game misconduct to Brooks Orpik for what was done to Stepan. This is why he made the point that if a Ranger had pulled a stunt parallel to Orpik’s on either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Bettman would've immediately been dialing the phone of Brendan Shanahan with orders to apply a suspension for the play.
The ironic thing that Bettman may not have completely thought out is that by fining Tortorella $20,000 for exposing the NHL by lashing out against the Pens, the League has now pretty much proven Torts’ point perfectly. They’ve proven that the price tag to maintain the previously mentioned forcefield around the Pens is a hefty 20K directly out of the coach’s pocket.
Well done, Mr. Bettman.
Unfortunately outside opinion does not seem to faze the leader of what is now becoming a corrupt sport in many ways. Like I said, the commissioner no longer feels the need to even disguise this double standard that is applied to the Penguins. There is a severe conflict in interest here that sees Bettman make decisions that will better the League’s annual revenue rather than better the integrity of the sport.
The social media reaction to yesterday’s announced fine to John Tortorella says it all. Media outlets and their beat writers who would normally remain quiet or at least subdued on an issue such as this came out and used words such as “appalling”, “disgusting” and “embarrassing” to describe the way in which the NHL handled the situation. The overwhelming majority was against the League’s decision on this one.
And by all means, it is not only the Rangers making public statements here. The Philadelphia Flyers also got into a heated postgame dispute over the Penguins last weekend, in which Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube referred to Crosby and Malkin as "two of the dirtiest players on their hockey team." Head coach Peter Laviolette was so enraged that he raised himself onto the boards during the game just so he could get a message across (literally) to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma, of course, hid behind his assistant coach the entire time, and Laviolette, meanwhile, would be handed a $10,000 fine of his own.
Berube wasn’t telling a folktale, either. Evgeni Malkin is a dirty player despite the fact that he is one of the more talented forwards in the world. The NBC Sports broadcast displayed this in last Sunday’s match between the Pens and Flyers, showing replays of Malkin jabbing his stick into opponents and throwing punches behind the play, all of which just so happened to be unnoticed by the officials.
The same argument, to an extent, can be made for Crosby. Remember this slew-foot on Ryan Callahan last season that also went unnoticed? Or what about Sidney’s comments yesterday stating that John Tortorella’s gamesmanship is “garbage”? Isn’t that equivalent to Torts calling him a whiner? Not in Bettman’s skewed eyes.
Not only did the League not discipline Crosby for those comments, but they went ahead and promoted them on their official Twitter:
Crosby calls remarks from @NHLFlyers and @thenyrangers "garbage." Story: bit.ly/IgkknZ
— NHL (@NHL) April 6, 2012
That’s just a downright embarrassment. Crosby and the Penguins can truly do no wrong, huh?
The argument made in this article, by John Tortorella, Craig Berube and many others can no longer be disputed. The signs pointing to the NHL’s favoritism are everywhere we turn, and the fact that they are handing out substantial fines to those who expose them only further proves the point.
The question now is when does it stop? Or, better yet, how will it be stopped?
Well, for starters, Tortorella and the Rangers could always appeal the fine. The downside of that is the resulting indirect prices the Rangers would pay come playoff time (i.e. one-sided officiating, suspensions, fines etc.). They wouldn’t want to deal with such odds working against them by causing a distraction from the task that they should be focused on.
Also, the Rangers organization, as well as others who may have been direct victims of the Pens-bias, could continue to speak out and simply absorb the fines that will come their way. Of course, once again, the ultimate outcome would probably not be in their favor.
That leaves the job up to us; media, bloggers, fans, broadcasters and what not. The more often the League is exposed for their corruptness, the more negative attention it will bring to Gary Bettman and the powers that be. This past week has done wonders in exposing them already, and the League helped that along itself with its retaliatory actions, but this week alone simply was not enough.
Tortorella receiving a $20,000 fine for speaking his mind while Brooks Orpik gets off scott-free for attempting to injure someone is absurd. The NHL has basically denied the coach his freedom of speech, or at the very least has done its best to manipulate what is said about the favoritism. It’s disgusting.
Knee-on-knee hits, head shots and even playing the puck from the bench are all legal actions based on the NHL's lack of discipline this week - not even the proverbial slap of the wrist is required. But somehow a coach speaking his mind (and the truth) on an opposing player/organization is worty of a $20,000 fine. Ridiculous.
The issue at hand is only going to grow worse and create more problems as time goes on. There’s no telling when, exactly, it will all come to an end, or if it ever will.
But as of right now one thing is for sure: the League is rapidly destroying its already declining integrity.
Hello, lockout 2012-13.