That’s what most of the media is saying, anyway; and yes, the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have already seen their fair share of hard hits, concussions, and at one point, even a stretcher that carried Marian Hossa off the ice — and we’re not yet even out of Round One. But, are this year’s playoffs really any rougher or tougher than they have been in the years past?
Not if you take into account years past. Don Cherry, the face of hockey and who many consider to be the final word, doesn’t think so. “It’s been going on forever. This stuff has been going on in the playoffs for a long time.” And he might not be wrong. When you consider the famous Scott Stevens hit on Eric Lindros in 2000 that left Lindros with a concussion; and then the other hit that Stevens’ is famous for when he ran into Paul Kariya justu three years later in 2003, which also gave Kariya a severe concussion. And who can forget the famous illegal hit and elbow Doug Gilmour took from Marty McSorley, or the countless other fights, scraps, and bad hits that have been dealt throughout the course of the Stanley Cup playoffs? There are definitely too many count, and Cherry’s view may be the right one.
But while the playoffs may not be all that tougher than years past, one also can’t deny that they seem much tougher — and for this, there could be several reasons. All the strict rule changes have definitely played a part, with the NHL turning a very serious eye to any unauthorized hits and any kind of fighting at all. As hits to the head are taken much more seriously, more players are given more penalties, and more players are taken to the changing room for treatment — something that never would have happened twenty years ago when concussions weren’t really considered all that serious. We know better now, and the NHL is disciplining harsher now. And the very sight of all those players headed towards the penalty box may just put it into our minds that the 2012 playoffs are much more violent than in years past.
Not everyone in the NHL is taking every head shot or fight all that seriously though, and that’s many of the refs that are on the ice during game time. Refs have been judged much harsher from fans, players, and coaches this year for their lack of calls and oblivious eye to some pretty obvious illegal behavior. As fewer calls are made on the ice, players begin to think that they can start to get away with it. That, if for no other reason, would be the sole reason why these playoffs are tougher than any others.
Because guys will always shove their weight around while fighting for a Cup, but there should always be someone there to keep them in line at the same time. And that’s the sole thing that’s been missing from the playoffs this year.