If old-time hockey is back, it’s left many – from Al Arbour to Wayne Gretzky and even Don Cherry – questioning whether they like the gritty sequel.
Stopping well short of making comparisons to the bloody, gap-toothed Broad Street Bully era of the 1970s, Arbour is upset with the head-hunting hits and suspension-a-day headlines dominating the first round of the NHL playoffs.
“It surprises me,” the retired hall of fame coach said.
Watching games every night on TV, Arbour was bothered seeing stars Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux exchange punches during Game 3 of the Penguins-Flyers’ series last weekend. And he was particularly upset in seeing Phoenix forward Raffi Torres go unpenalized after launching himself into Marian Hossa with such force that the Chicago forward had to be carted off the ice Tuesday.
Through the first eight days of the playoffs, nine players have been issued suspensions, including Torres who will learn whether his indefinite ban will be extended after a hearing today. Penalty minutes are up over previous playoff first rounds. According to STATS LLC, teams are averaging 18 penalty minutes a game this year, which is pacing at the highest rate since 1998, when the first-round average was 20.1 minutes.
Yet the rise is coming on the heels of one of the least penalized regular seasons of the NHL’s modern era. Teams averaged 11.2 penalty minutes per game last season, the lowest total in at least 23 years, according to STATS.
“It’s emotion,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said referring to the physical nature of the playoffs. “I think everybody believes they have a chance right now.”