So, you've all probably seen it by now.
Sidney Crosby has a concussion after a hit from Matt Niskanen last night that was either an unfortunate collision or a premeditated attempt to viciously injure him, depending on which side of the fence you sit on.
Let's be clear before we go any further: your friendly writer believes that, irrespective of the intent or otherwise, the incident was horrendous and hockey is better off with a healthy Crosby. This article will take no stance on the hit itself, only the reaction to it.
Hockey media, unsurprisingly, has almost without exception come down on the "attempt to injure" side of the fence - none more so than Pittsburgh Penguins reporter Rob Rossi, who has penned an article so extraordinarily vicious and biased in response, unfairly slamming the Capitals, that you can almost see the spit flying from his metaphorical mouth as he yells his vitriol into the faces of readers.
To read Rossi, you'd think the contact between Niskanen and Crosby last night was the culmination of a diabolical plan concocted in hushed whispers in a darkened Verizon Center locker room - one that required the connivance and agreement of every Washington Capital and the timing and planning usually only seen in far-fetched heist movies.
This is an extract from Rossi's piece today. We could go through it line-by-line, ripping the delusion and reaches, but frankly, it's not worth the effort. Especially when this passage of innuendo, poorly-couched rhetorical devices and supposition basically sums up the whole piece.
Ovechkin, who can't beat Crosby on the ice, decided to remove him from it.
Makes you wonder what that closed-door meeting called by Capitals players was really about after their blowout defeat in Game 2, huh?
Sorry, but I cannot give the Capitals, or the NHL, any benefit. And I doubt very much there wasn't an intent to injure Crosby when this series shifted to Pittsburgh.
We must pay credit to Mr. Rossi here. After all, clearly such a valiant, morally-upstanding defender of what is right and just in hockey would have no truck with defending a player like that on any team.
Except he has.
This is a man who, after all, saw no issue in taking the illness of Matt Cooke's wife and Cooke's playing hockey through it, and using it as an excuse to try and rehabilitate the image via a redemption story about one of the sneakiest, dirtiest rink rats ever to lace up a pair of skates in the modern NHL - something that even the notoriously forgiving and defensive Pittsburgh fanbase found to be tremendously uncomfortable.
This is a man who, in 2014, lamented the lack of "team toughness" in the Penguins and wrote a hagiographic column on the work of Eric Godard and Paul Bissonnette - players known for being put out on the ice to make the opposition suffer physically rather than on the scoreboard.
And surprisingly, while Rossi's outrage knew no bounds when it came to Crosby's cross-check in the face, he was strangely silent both about Patric Hornqvist trying to take Lars Eller's head off with a wild elbow (missing and hitting Conor Sheary in an incident which saw the Pens forward follow his captain down the tunnel) and Chris Kunitz taking the kind of run at T.J. Oshie that, based on previous form, would have had him calling for Pens fans to storm the Verizon Center behind a rampaging Iceburgh carrying burning Easton Synergy torches, had it been thrown the other way.
But in his hypocrisy, Rossi is not alone. The rhetoric since the Crosby injury has been all about the horrors of the Niskanen hit and the plans the Capitals may or may not have had to target the Penguins star, but it's also led to a wider conversation about how the permissiveness of the NHL come playoff time has seen this situation become inevitable. The most pertinent comment comes from Ray Ferraro, a player with a storied NHL career and now a respected TV analyst:
1) Crosby play last night. Why isn't Ovi slash even considered for a penalty? Because standard for playoffs is diff than season and a joke— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) May 2, 2017
2) "let them play" means dumbing the game down and allow tackling etc / might as well take rule book to center ice before game and burn it— Ray Ferraro (@rayferrarotsn) May 2, 2017
In this respect, Ferraro is echoing voices of the game like THN's Ken Campbell, another writer who's been vocal in condemning the culture in the NHL that allows violence to escalate to this level.
Ferraro is consistent and openly condemning of dirty play wherever it comes from - as seen in a tweet today where someone asks "what about the Crosby slash on Methot" and he reacts equally disgustedly. Campbell, too, has written a column bemoaning the NHL's lack of protection for "star players" like Crosby. Even Tie Domi (TIE DOMI!) has said that hockey needs to sort itself out and that the mentality of such things as "a hockey play" needs to be eliminated from the game.
But here's the thing: many of these journalists are the same people who will be lionizing players next week for being "key contributors" when their main role on the team is to go out and hit the opposition's star players into submission. They will be praising the efforts of checking and shutdown lines, arguing that "physically intimidating the opposition" and "sending a message" are legitimate tactics in the game.
These are also the same journalists who will wring their hands and clutch their figurative pearls about the lack of protection afforded to Crosby, while at the same time arguing that the Pens should seek "retribution" for the hit, or at the very least that the "code" demands that Washington should be "forced to answer" for such actions.
The same journalists who will enter debates with a straight face over whether Alex Ovechkin is choosing to shoot at an opposition defenceman's head rather than the net even though the net is available, and argue that Pens should "make him suffer" for it.
But then, hockey media has an uneasy relationship with incidents like this. It's almost as if these incidents force the media to confront the results that all their talk of "team toughness", "playing hard", and "being accountable" actually produces - a game in which players feel the need to push the envelope of physicality and legality further and further to fit a media archetype - one that then comes back to bite them. And yet the trend continues. See also Damien Cox, no stranger to launching tirades himself, saying that Crosby's injury is somehow "evening up" for the deeds of Matt Cooke, Tom Sestito, and their ilk - a view that only encourages players to walk even farther down this line between hockey and outright assault so they can be seen to be "making things right", or risk getting roasted by the kind of men who would soil their pants if forced to stand up and back up their words in an NHL (or even rec league) environment.
Hockey media may wring its hands over injuries like Crosby's, but the ranting and fury of men (and, it has to be said, they are always male) reporting hockey is the worst kind of hypocrisy and crocodile tears. These reporters write not out of concern for players health, nor do they write out of a sense of right. These pearl-clutching articles are often written as much to try and expiate their guilt at the damage their promotion of hyper-masculine aggression as an ideal and constant need to compare sport to warfare creates as to report it - even as they say "well, it's the game, not my bastardized view of it".
They write because they think it's the right thing to say, while simultaneously creating the environment for more events like it in the future.
Deep down, Rob Rossi and his ilk know that their words will drive calls for the Penguins to take retribution on a Caps star, (ideally, in the twisted logic followed by people who believe their articles, Alex Ovechkin). They know that their words might mean that, in a split second, a player decides to land an otherwise-avoidable hit that could end another player's career out of a misguided need to satisfy the bloodlust drummed into them by day and month and year of journalists screaming for aggression as an ideal, but many don't care.
They know that enough fake outrage and false sorrow can put them on the side of Right in the eyes of hockey, at least when it's centered on the players they claim to love and care about that suffer.
And they have learned to put any moral scruples aside, for, either way, they're still getting the clicks that journalism needs, without having too much moral compunction about the wasteland that the striving for clicks mentality is making of the sport they claim to love.
Because all is fair in the click-chasing modern hockey media world of bodychecks, lies, and videotape.