For those who have yet to see or hear about the Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller the synopsis is that Lucic was chasing the puck and Miller came out around the faceoff dot to play it. After Miller cleared the puck to the side boards Lucic took the opportunity to level him. Naturally a brewhaha insued and after the dust settled Brendan Shanahan said “looked okay to me, no suspension” (That’s not what he really said but the result is the same). This week in the Vancouver Sun, Dave Stubbs wrote an opinion piece titled “Lucic, Sabres both violated code”, to which I wondered – does The Code really still exist?
In Stubbs’ article he argues that Lucic violated the Thou shall not run the goalie commandment and the Sabres violated the Thou shall protect the goalie at all costs commandment.
Centre Paul Gaustad, at six-foot-five and 212 advertised pounds, was on the ice and barely blinked at Lucic when the Bruin ran over Miller…The Sabre’s alternate captain has been harshly self-critical of his own inaction, and of his team as a whole.
There are codes in hockey. One was broken [Saturday] and honestly we broke one as well. We didn’t protect our goaltender the way we should.
The Code is essentially an unwritten agreement of respect and honour amongst players. Let’s play the game fair and square and let the best team win. However, as has been mentioned in many other Hockey in Society posts, it also gives a pat on the back to vigilante justice. An eye for an eye, as Gandhi said, makes the whole world blind and that is definitely what Shanahan (and the NHL at large) seems to have on – blinders. Gaustad berates himself for not reacting with physical violence on his teammate’s behalf, but why should he have to? There are referees on the ice. There are rules in place. There is the great hand of justice in Shanahan. Why should any player have to take the justice into his own hands? Is it because a suspension isn’t enough punishment (if it happens)? Is it because guys like Lucic will probably only get suspended for 1 out of every 4 dirty hits so we had better put him in his place if the league won’t do it? Probably a combination of the both I would say, but I ask again – does The Code still exist?
And if this mythical Code does exist, is it the same one that people like Don Cherry espouse? I have a feeling that it’s not the same Code anymore. The game has changed, the players have changed and I suspect that so has The Code. Perhaps what we are seeing is The Code 2.0, whereby flying elbows, headshots and goalie running is fair game. It seems to me that players like Lucic (Subban, Marchand) fear nothing, they fear no retribution and it does not seem like there is really a way of putting fear into them either. I think a lack of fear (interchangeable with respect) amongst young players signals a change in the governance of the game. After all, once the Mafia no longer runs the neighbourhood anything goes right? Just as North American youth largely seem to have forgotten the guideline of “respect your elders”, it seems that same youth defiance has infiltrated the NHL. It is often said that an indicator of civil unrest is the percentage of youth (generally under the age of 30) versus the percentage of non-youth and once the balance swings to the youngin’s favour it’s a crapshoot as to who will come out on top. Societal norms evolve over time and given that sport is embedded within these social interactions it is a safe assumption to make (I think) that the rules of the game, written or otherwise, will have to adapt.
So despite the fact that Stubbs’ thinks both parties violated The Code in the Lucic/Miller incident, I would have to disagree and say that I think Lucic is merely trying to renegotiate the contact.