There's widespread relief at the news that Patrice Bergeron suffered nothing more than a concussion and broken nose after the nasty hit from behind by the Flyers' Randy Jones in the Bruins/Flyers game Saturday night. The fact that a head injury and broken nose are met with relief is a sign of how bad it initially looked and the length of time Bergeron lay motionless on the ice.
The guessing, spinning and closing of ranks began almost immediately after the game ended, accompanied by the contrite, humble apology from the perpetrator that has become a requisite part of each subsequent incident.
Bob McKenzie has offered up his take on the hit at TSN, concluding that the suspension that Jones is likely to receive will be far less than those handed out to his Flyer team-mates earlier in the year (Jesse Boulerice tagged with 25 for his cross-check to the face of Ryan Kesler and Steve Downie with 20 for his hit on Dean McCammond.)
McKenzie's sound and reasoned interpretation of issues and incidents in the NHL have made him one of the most respected hockey pundits in the game. To the point that he probably has the ability to influence those within the decision-making ranks of the NHL or at least give them pause for second thought on occasion.
However, I disagree with him somewhat regarding the hit on Bergeron and what the appropriate (and probable) response should (will) be. Mainly for the reason that he bases his analysis of what happened and the likely consequences on the prevailing reaction of players and GMs around the league following the incident. No doubt there is a collective understanding and wisdom about the game within that group that doesn't exist elsewhere, and the weight of that view can't help but have some effect on the final decision.
I sense a kind of annoyance and "here we go again" exhaustion from other players and GMs after their reactions to a number of previous incidents. The mostly genuine responses at the time came at least partly because of outside pressure. The extenuating circumstances, arguable lack of intent and relatively little physical damage have made it easier to offer up the traditionally callous, "that's the way it goes" response this time around.
There's a mentality within hockey and sports in general, that injury equals weakness. It's right there alongside losing and is seen as a shortcoming of those on the receiving end as much as anything done by those inflicting the damage. "It's the fault of the injured player," narrative gets more play in hockey than most other sports. Most such claims beg the question and rarely is there an articulated or detailed explanation of exactly what the player did wrong. McKenzie at least addresses this somewhat in his editorial:
"Bergeron contributed to his own demise by turning away from the hit and going low into the dasher board, which led to a broken nose and concussion. "
I have to say that in the video I don't see at any time Bergeron turning away from the hit. It appears he went in blind and if anything should have turned to increase his awareness and line of vision of opposing players following him into the boards. The turning away from a hit becomes an issue when a player is in a position of peripheral or full vision and turns away from that to avoid a potential collision. However, McKenzie is right regarding the going in low and stopping with that dangerous few feet of space between the boards.
So, the partial blame theory has some credence . But, if blame is to be assigned, far more has to be shouldered by Jones because of the position he was in, the recognition he must have for the potential danger of such situations and the responsibility he has for being able to pull up. Similarly, if the accidental nature of Jones's actions should be given weight when deciding on a punishment, surely the unintentional and accidental aspect of Bergeron's less than perfect positioning should further lessen any blame he has for his own injuries.
I believe the kind of thinking offered up by Allan Maki in his response to the hit will get more consideration from the league. The suspension to be handed down from the NHL is an opportunity to highlight the responsibility players have to play within some kind of limits and to recognize the increasing speed and potential for these situations to develop. The NHL seems conscious of the changing nature of the game and have made certain that suspensions mean something this season. An insignificant number of games for Jones will simply validate the "things happen" story-line.
While it's hard to argue that this fits in with a particular culture and style of play advocated by Flyers coaching and management, the optics still don't look good on the heels of the prior incidents. I expect at least some coded warnings in the language used by NHL brass to address this, though I don't see any fines being assessed.
I believe the suspension will be less than the ones handed down to Downie and Boulerice but more than the handful of games expected by others.
My prediction is 10-12 games.