Sports Illustrated recently had a poll with the dirtiest players in the league. Names like Chris Pronger, Steve Ott and Sean Avery all predictably showed up on the list—but who were some guys that you think should have ended up on the list? A man that ended up with 5% of the vote was Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers—but how is it that he’s any dirtier than Evgeni Malkin? Both play the game dangerously close to the line; and both have crossed it more than one time. The only difference I see between the two of them is that Malkin scores more goals. So why is it that one of the players is considered dirty and one gets a free pass?
Malkin has a history of questionable plays going all the way back to his career in the World Juniors. Please note that I said “questionable” plays; not dirty. The point is that if you have a long list of questionable plays, then it’s only natural to ask if there’s a larger trend at work here. It’s like the old saying goes, “where there’s that much smoke, there’s probably fire.”
A very important question to ask here is this: What exactly makes a player dirty? Is it one single action that’s so heinous that it should stay with him for his entire career? Or is it a collection of plays that show he has little regard for the unwritten rules of the NHL or the welfare of his fellow players? There’s a difference between a dirty play and a dirty player. In the heat of the moment, guys will do things within the context of the game that crosses the line. A perfectly respectable player is capable of a dirty play (singular). But then there are those little plays, after the whistle plays, hitting someone when they don’t have the puck, punching when the ref isn’t looking kind of plays that can make a player dirty.
For the record, Malkin has never been suspended by the NHL (neither in the regular season, nor in the playoffs). He HAS been fined for his hit/elbow on Wayne Simmons earlier this season as time expired in the 3rd period. But we all know, just because someone isn’t suspended or fined, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing things that warrant a penalty. It all depends on where Colin Campbell’s “Wheel of Justice” lands that day. Sidney Crosby could murder someone on the ice and nothing would happen—Sean Avery could annoy Martin Brodeur and get suspended. This just in: the NHL has a double standard for its superstars!
Before Penguin fans come in and start complaining that Malkin is no more dirty than Alexander Ovechkin, that’s not what I’m asking. In fact, this has nothing to do with Ovechkin, Crosby or any of the Washington Capitals. Stay focused. It actually is possible that both Ovechkin AND Malkin are both dirty. Likewise, it’s possible for NEITHER one of them to be dirty. This isn’t an either/or proposition. And PLEASE don’t go to the “you’re just jealous” card. Yes, he’s a great player and I’d love to have him on my team—but I’d be asking this question of any player that I’ve noticed a familiar trend that has gone under the radar. Just look at what his talent is capable of producing:
It’s that kind of spectacular talent that puts him on the short list for Best Player on the Planet. But there’s another side to his game that is a little less publicized that I’ve been thinking about lately. Constantly he’s walking the line between right and wrong—from the cold shoulder/elbow on Wayne Simmons to a slew foot on Paul Mara on the Rangers. Here’s what Mara had to say about the questionable play:
“He did it twice – right at their blue line going into their zone and then right in our zone right in front of the ref. That’s a classless act by a superstar. And there’s no need for that in our game.” –Paul Mara
Judge for yourself: just a normal penalty in a hockey game or a dirty play by a dirty player?
During these playoffs, he’s continued to walk the line. On more than one occasion, I’ll see Malkin throwing rabbit punches at opponents when the refs are otherwise occupied. Again, I’m not saying this is an altogether bad thing either. Los Angeles Kings GM has even said, “Every good army needs a few criminals.” The Ducks are widely regarded as the dirtiest team in the league—yet they’ve also been one of the most successful teams this decade. I’m just saying that this behavior isn’t new, nor is it getting any better. Just ask Darryl Sydor:
What do you think? Do you think he’s a dirty player that gets a free pass because he’s a superstar? Or do you think he’s just a good player that plays on the aggressive side?
Update (6/1/09): Here’s a clip of the fireworks at the end of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Does this change your opinion of him at all or just reinforce what you thought all along? (Thanks to @goaliemom31 on Twitter for the link)