Sitting here in a hotel room at 2:11am, I can't sleep. Truth be told I usually stay up until 3 or 4, but this feels different. I can't get the wifi to work on my computer, so I'm hunched over, typing this on an iPhone hoping autocorrect will handle the mistakes my tired brain is bound to make.
The feeling I'm having after sitting in section 108 at the Bell Centre last night and watching Lars Eller lay in a pool of his own blood, is why is this happening again?
No, it's not the Max Pacioretty vs Zdeno Chara hit again. I don't think many of the people watching were afraid for Eller's life, but the feeling is remarkably the same.
The two players didn't have prior history of trying to hurt each other. There was no build up to the play where we could look and say, this guy's been gunning for him for awhile. However that it was Eller who was taken out probably shouldn't be a surprise.
Im not saying Gryba tried to injure Eller, but he was blitzing the Sens with a 92.9% Fenwick and was clearly a target physically.
What is curious to me is why the conversation always seems to change between when a Montreal Canadiens player makes a dirty hit and when they receive one. When Pacioretty was hit by Chara in a clearly illegal play (interference is against the rules and therefore NOT a hockey play), the discussion was immediately shifted to intent. Intent they say, isn't provable in such a situation, so Chara got off.
When Ryan White put an ugly headshot on a player two weeks ago, intent no longer mattered. "He picked the head." Even Shanahan said in the suspension video that he believed White meant to lay the body but was off on his angle. But he hit all head and it was bad. Suspend him for 5, fine. If that's the standard then personally I like it a lot.
However after Eric Gryba clearly picked Eller's head, and slow motion replays show head contact before anything else, the conversation is back to intent. Once again we're talking about "It's a hockey play" and "he's not that kind of player". Here's the thing though:
It doesn't fucking matter.
Intent doesn't matter. What kind of player Gryba is 9999/10000 times doesn't matter. What matters is that when this hit was made, Gryba came from Eller's blind side and hit him directly to the head. Eller was unconscious in the air, unable to protect himself from the ice as he fell face first, blood pouring all over the place.
But let's be realistic too. Even if Gryba is punished unfairly, given a Torres-like suspension, it doesn't really matter. He's Ottawa's 7th best defenseman. Suspending him isn't going to give the Habs their second best center back, a player who scored more points than any Ottawa Senator this season.
No, and it doesn't even hurt the team they're playing against. This is the problem with suspensions. It was the problem with the Ryan White suspension too. During the regular season it's fine, you're punishing the player. But in the playoffs you have to punish the team too. Taking White out of the lineup didn't hurt the Habs. Taking Gryba out doesn't hurt the Sens.
You want lasting and meaningful change in the sport? Take away a roster spot. If Gryba were to get 2 games for taking out a player 12 times his worth, let the Senators skate 5 defensemen in those two games.
Obviously I'm talking about the future here. You can't change the rules in the middle of the playoffs unless Sean Avery does something mildly distracting of course. But this is the kind of thing that gets cheap shot artists out of the game. Not that Gryba is one.
May the current dynamic, a Patrick Kaleta is incredibly useful because he can take a useful player out of a game and all you stand to lose is Patrick Kaleta. Change that to a roster spot, and maybe coaches don't dress that player. Maybe after being a scratch for a long time, that player learns that you can't stay in the lineup by hurting people.
Hockey is a physical game. That doesn't mean we have to accept garbage plays like the one Gryba purport rates on Eller.
It is moments like the Eller hit when I wonder, when I have children, do I even want them to play this sport? Does a 5 year old watching last night's game think that it's a sport that he wants to continue watching? Chris mentioned that his 9 year old was a little rattled by the hit. I can honestly say that I was too. Thinking about the sick feeling I have in my stomach tonight, I wonder how that effects a kid. Maybe it rolls off easier because they don't entirely get the consequences.
What I do know is that watching my twitter timeline fill with Senators fans pretending that hit was clean, many of whom were all over White's carbon copy of a hit just weeks ago, is that sports can bring out the worst in people.
Hopefully it brings out the best in the Habs, but it sure doesn't feel like it will.