Is the NHL Doomed to Repeat History?

April 17, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Phoenix Coyotes left wing Raffi Torres (37) makes a pass to defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) during the first period in game three of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

On Tuesday night, an incident occurred. A player made contact with the head of a player on another team. This play was reviewed by the league and punishment handed down swiftly.

Raffi Torres?

No, Delonte West from the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

First, some back story.

For those that do not know, on Tuesday night Delonte West poked Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz in the ear. The incident, being referred to as the "West Willy", quickly drew a technical foul call from the officials, a condemnation from the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Rick Carlisle, and a $25,000 fine from the league.

That’s right, not only was Delonte fined 10 times the amount the NHL fined Weber, but he was also condemned by his own coach and his punishment was handed down in less than 24 hours.

How is the NBA so much better at supplemental discipline than the NHL? In the last decade each league has been marred by a viscous incident that has sullied the reputation of the league. For the NHL it was the Todd Bertuzzi incident with Steve Moore. For the NBA it was the brawl between the Pacers and the Pistons that spilled over in to the stands.

Since then, it seems as if the two leagues are on completely different trajectories. The NBA, with David Stern at the helm, has instituted a new dress code for players as well as greatly limited the ways players can interact with officials without being called for a technical foul. The NBA has been able to greatly change the way players are perceived by the public at large and shed, at least somewhat, the legacy of the Malice at the Palace.

The NHL, on the other hand, seems to have only gotten further mired down in this type of controversy. Fans have questioned players respect for one another, but that’s not close to where it stops. This story in the Globe and Mail notes that the NHL has had to do some hand holding with their advertisers as a result of the play this post season. This article in Wired shows a father’s frustration at allowing his son to continue to watch hockey while the league continues to not take the issue of player safety seriously.

As the father who wrote the open article to the NHL owners said, I love hockey, and I think it's a beautiful game. The lessons it teaches about teamwork, and fortitude, and sacrifice are magnificent. It has something to offer for everyone. What I don't understand is how the NBA can make a commitment to not repeat the mistakes of the past and stick to it and why the NHL cannot do the same.

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