Tensions get high during the playoffs, and even if the Blackhawks aren’t competing in the postseason, former coach Joel Quenneville is in the mix. Down in Florida, the Panthers are squaring off against the Lightning in a series that has become pretty ugly. However, something that stood out after the wild Game 4 was a couple of quotes about the officiating by Tampa Bay’s coach, Jon Cooper.
This might be particularly interesting for Chicago Blackhawks fans because of a controversial incident between Connor Murphy and Eric Cernak. In case anyone missed the saturation media coverage, Murphy crushed Cernak with a huge hit, and the big Chicago defenseman received a match penalty. There was no further supplemental discipline, and this was probably handled the only way it could have been.
What’s the connection between this incident, and the series between the Florida teams? We’ll get to that a little further down. After the game that saw Murphy get that match-penalty, the Lightning came back and hounded Murphy to try and get him to fight someone. This carried on for the rest of the season between these two teams, but there was no criticism of the officials.
Here is the Murphy hit in question:
Back in March John Dietz from the Daily Herald got a quote from Cooper about the hit on Murphy that says a lot about how he’s coaching his team.
Player safety starts on the ice, and by extension among the coaching staff, not at the top of the league. The players should be the first ones making sure the game stays under control, and people aren’t headhunting. The officials are there to help that, but it’s the players who are first and foremost responsible for one another’s well-being. After the players, it’s on the coaches to manage the team and keep them focused on playing the game hard, not injuring people to send a message.
When a head coach makes a comment acknowledging that a big hit was a clean hit, but still deserves some kind of retribution then there’s a problem. Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton had some pointed comments about the Lightning’s “response” when the teams played each other again.
This brings us to the present series in Florida. There’s an apparent “disagreement” between coaches Cooper and Quenneville about how the games in that series have been called. Cooper was fairly vocal about his dissatisfaction with how the games have been called. Normally, the NHL doesn’t appreciate this and fines coaches, but this hasn’t happened yet. Quenneville disagreed with Cooper, but he didn’t come down on the officials. (Comments from both coaches available through this tweet from Joe Smith of The Athletic)
Then you have this comment from Alex Killorn,
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These kinds of comments should have no place in the league, and Cooper should be stepping in here to stop this behavior. For the record, Florida’s Sam Bennett was suspended one game for boarding. No such punishments have been handed out to any of Tampa Bay’s players. The league is watching, and handing out supplemental discipline.
However, Cooper appears to have a different take on how games should be managed. Some of this is for show, but some of this is serious. Anyone watching Chicago’s games knows Cooper meant what he said as the Lightning’s players made it a point to single out Murphy.
When it comes to player safety, the rhetoric that is coming out of Tampa Bay, at least since March, hasn’t necessarily about keeping people safe at all. If the league was going to bring the hammer down on someone for complaining about the refs, then it should be the Lightning’s head coach.
Now is the time, especially since Cooper’s comments make it sound like he’s, at the very least “OK”, if not downright encouraging hurting opposing team’s players with reckless play. Cooper isn’t the only coach to offer their insight into the quality of the officiating, but he’s the only one who seems to think that encouraging rougher play is a viable answer.
Everyone understands wanting to stick up for your guy. Everyone understands the desire to uphold “The Code”, but enabling dangerous conduct because you’re not happy with how the game is being called has no place in serious competition. Everyone should understand this as well, even if Cooper might not, and Blackhawks fans saw it for themselves with how Tampa Bay and Chicago played pretty much every game after Murphy’s hit on Cernak. We’ll see what happens next in Florida.