I was amazed yesterday to discover that the NHL front office actually managed to suspend Matt Cooke and come perilously close to filling their athletic supporter. A taking him off the ice for 14-17 games is possibly the best thing to happen to the NHL since the lockout This also marks the first time the NHL disciplinary czar has appeared to use the oxygenated blood flowing to both decision making organs in the same day since the Simon suspension. That said, there needs to be clear use of terms to define player types, even if only among the media both old and new.
First the terms:
- Pest, an agitator who behaves in a way designed to take an opponents mind off the game, and draw retaliatory penalties who does not frequently engage in behavior than can cause long term physical damage to others. Or do things that threaten the games integrity. Under this heading, most would list a player like Brad Marchand.
- Punk, a player with poor discipline who is coachable, has the behaviours of a Pest, but is a bit more reckless and often engages in things like tantrums in the penalty box or in front of the press and fans. Occasionally crosses the line into actively harmful behavior or faking injuries but can be reigned in. Sean Avery would head most hockey observers list for this category.
- Predator this is the type of player who actively, knowingly and repeatedly seeks to harm others. This person may or may not have the attributes of the two less offensive categories. Predatory players have little coachability in their harmful behavior, and will usually make planative mouth noises claiming to change after each punishment but repeat the same type offense on multiple occasions. The behavior does not meet any fit definition of hockey play and is often blatantly displayed. These individuals often don’t see a problem with what they are doing and may feel no need to hide it. Matt Cooke is the living embodiment of predatory player. Steve Ott probably sits somewhere between predator and punk.
The NHL and NHLPA together or separately need to come up with a way to remove the last group from the NHL as quickly as they are recognized. When possible they need to downgrade punks to pests, and not ever confuse the latter two for the former, or make noxious biased grandstanding about clean hockey players by labeling them even in the heat of the moment as predatory it helps no one, it makes you look silly and makes excusing true predation easier.