Burrows Hit on McDonagh: Where Were the Rangers?
Vancouver Canucks forwards Alexandre Burrows' controversial hit on New York Rangers' defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the final minute of Tuesday's 3-1 road win by New York was par for the course for the Vancouver player.
In Tuesday's blog, I discussed the entitlement culture in today's game where too many players feel like they can hit anyone for any reason and feel that no one has the right to hit them (even cleanly). There are lots of dynamics involved here.
Burrows is one of the game's most disliked players for good reason. He is a sneaky opportunist. Rather than playing a tough-but-clean physical game, he actively seeks out vulnerable opposing players and accelerates into the hit when he knows they are vulnerable. That is always followed by some weak post-game excuse and shifting of blame.
The post-game response from Burrows was predictable.
"My intentions weren't to be dirty or hurt the guy. I just wanted to get a forecheck and retrieve the puck," he said.
Oh, really? You were trying to cleanly forecheck... when down multiple goals in the final minute of play and your teammate, Zach Kassian, already riding him into the wall? I'm sure it's just a coincidence that you came in high. You made zero effort to slow down at all when you clearly saw that the D-man was being taken out and there was an actual chance to go for the puck. But it was a clean forecheck. Yeah, right.
Video from NHL.com
I am all for hustle from buzzer to buzzer. This wasn't hustle and it wasn't forechecking. This hit was an act of opportunistic cowardice done either out of sheer frustration or to impress the coach (who just so happens to be the former Rangers coach). There was no excuse for that hit.
However, in watching this play, my bigger question is this: Where the hell were the Rangers all this time?
McDonagh is supposed to be an emerging franchise defenseman whom some have deemed a worthy Norris Trophy candidate this season. Whether he is or not at that level yet is subject to a different debate (I personally think he still has a way to go before he's hailed like some latter-day Brian Leetch). The main point here is that he's a player whom teammates should be protecting at all costs if they see him as their blueline anchor along with Dan Girardi.
Did Martin St. Louis or Girardi make any effort to hold up either of the two Vancouver players from steamrolling McDonagh as he went to retrieve the puck? No, they let Kassian and Burrows have free reign to run their teammate.
How strongly did the Rangers react to what Burrows did? Like they barely had a pulse. Is that how Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would want them to respond? Apparently so. He appears to be clueless about the ever-declining Code in this game.
So, basically, the Rangers were neither proactive nor reactive here. They were simply passive.
Back when I was playing and refereeing, a play like this -- one team up multiple goals in the final minute against a club that will be golfing soon, play involves a dirty hit on a key player by an opponent notorious for such plays -- was one where a team's passivity tells you one of two things.
The first possibility is that the recipient is not a respected player in his own dressing room. That does not seem to be the case here.
So the second possibility is passive coaching and/or players who are not taking accountability for a teammate's safety. People talk about the decline of the enforcer role in the game. OK, but if there are no enforcers, you had better show TEAM toughness with everyone taking responsibility for not letting the Alexandre Burrows' of the world run your best defenseman when he's vulnerable.
Yes, I am fully aware that getting a fight instigation penalty in the final five minutes of a game could potentially get a one-game suspension. Standing up for a teammate is still paramount, however. Truly unified teams rally around one another when they need to.