Jonathan Toews knows BS when he hears it.
Back in the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup after missing six games with a concussion, the second-year centre and captain is in a unique position to pass judgment on the NHL's ham-handed approach to head shots and blind-side hits. Because of his game and personality, his could end up being a voice of authority. For now, he has no bully pulpit. Just honesty.
"It's not a perfect world," Toews said yesterday before the Blackhawks took on the Toronto Maple Leafs at the United Center. "Some guys do respect each other, and some guys don't.
"Some of these hits … [players]are going in at an unnecessary speed. And if you're going to sit there and answer questions after you hit somebody like that and say you didn't want to hurt them … you're lying through your teeth."
The Blackhawks, contrary to what you might believe, were not scurrying around their dressing room high-fiving each other giddily over news that the Maple Leafs were starting Vesa Toskala. That was left to people who have Patrick Kane or Toews or Patrick Sharp on their fantasy teams.
Nor were they celebrating Forbes's recent valuation of the team, which showed a whopping 26-per-cent increase in franchise value, significant because for years the Blackhawks had been the only Original Six team not in the top quarter.
This group has had a lot on its collective mind since they authored a memorable turnaround in 2008-09, becoming the league's sexiest team, a group, finally, that matched the magnificence of the jersey.
General manager Dale Tallon was fired. Marian Hossa was signed to a 12-year, $62.8-million (all currency U.S.) free-agent contract and - good news! - he's about a week away from taking part in full-contact practices. Goaltender Cristobal Huet is, well, you know, and now centre Dave Bolland is out for as much as four months after surgery on a herniated disc.
"We need to open up a bit of a gap between us and the other teams," said Toews, who scored a power-play goal Monday in his first game back after suffering a concussion on a check by the Vancouver Canucks' Willie Mitchell.
Toews was invited to the Canadian Olympic team camp last summer but seems to have put the possibility of being on the team out of his mind. "A minor goal," is what he called it, not out of disrespect, but out of a realization that Canada has imposing depth.
Toews says Mitchell's hit was clean, and is self-critical about his lack of on-ice awareness on the play. But what we're talking about here is a workplace safety issue, and as a player who has a long career ahead of him - and will be often targeted - Toews didn't take long to get over his initial reluctance to discuss the matter.
Maybe it's because there are too many border-line former players making important decisions and standing on the soap boxes, but the NHL doesn't do crisis well. General managers met in Toronto this week and resolved to do, well, something about blind-side hits and head shots.
Maybe, you know, it's okay if the hits aren't blind-side hits delivered with the shoulder. Maybe it's okay if they're delivered head-on. "A direct blow to the head, where there's no other physical contact, might be a demarcation line," Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis told The Globe and Mail.
Contrast the NHL's hand-wringing and hair-splitting with a Wall Street Journal story on helmets and helmet safety in which NFL spokesman Greg Aiello unequivocally says the NFL focuses on rules that "try to take the head out of the game." There is no reason for a blow to be delivered to the head during a hockey game. Ever. Period.
"I don't see what the difference is whether it's an elbow or a shoulder, they're both lethal if they're right to the head," Toews said. "I don't see what the difference is, if the guy's coming at you with a lot of speed.
"You could still make a clean check with your shoulder to the guy's chest, or shoulder to shoulder, or something like that."
NHL players haven't had a good run. They have a collective agreement that imposes an escrow tax. The players' association has been gelded, showing a disturbing tendency to follow the loudest voices in the room, when they're paying attention at all. Donald Fehr will help fix the National Hockey League Players' Association, but there are other ways in which the players can take control of the game. They don't appear to respect each other in the boardroom, but the least they can do is respect each other on the ice before one of them dies.