Friday, March 16, 2007

The Simonizing of Ryan Hollweg

This is what popped up when I google-imaged Chris Simon

I've had a few days to cool off from the Isles-Rangers game in which Chris Simon played Casey at Bat with the head of Ryan Hollweg. Fortunately, Simon connected only slightly better than the hero of the classic poem, not enough to do serious, greivous damage to his victim. I am still horrified that the incident even took place. It is inexcusable. But upon further review, I fear I may have been a little too harsh on Simon. As one of the most celebrated Islanders fans/apologists in the metropolitan area, I have been asked by the thousands of SportSquee and hlog fans to weigh in on the tomahawk chop and here is the breakdown as I can make sense of the whole thing.

Why did Chris Simon do it?
At first glance, it looked like a gut-reaction to getting hit. Like Simon just got over-emotional in the heat of getting checked into the boards, a talent upon which Simon himself built his career. As I noted previously, it seemed like he was being a brat, or a Havlat, if you will. But upon ad nauseum reviews of the play, Simon clearly looks out of it. On the igniting play, Hollweg's arm is buried deep in Simon's numbers, making for a dangerous boarding. Simon went face/neck first into the glass, hard. I don't point this out to excuse Simon in the least, but I think it should be noted that he now has a serious concussion as a result of the play. Now, if I, a pacifist and vegan, have a concussion, and kick you in the face, I'm still an asshole for kicking you in the face. But at least you have an explanation for why I was out of it enough to do something like that. Even in the post-game locker room interview, Simon's eyes are dilated and roving hither and yon as he tries to back pedal for the press. Beyond sounding emotionally rocked, he looked sick. And if you've ever gotten overly randy at a Neil Diamond concert and bailed down the mezzanine stairs at MSG, you'll recognize that dazed, slow look.

Did Ryan Hollweg deserve it?
No. Ryan Hollweg is a douche. Let's get that out of the way. I say this not as a noted Ranger-hater, but as a person who read about the time he pissed all over some girl's flip-flopped feet at a Memorial Day barbecue, and was horrified. The pest is one of the trickiest roles in hockey. It's easy to love a pest when he's on your team, and it's easier to loathe him when he's on the other team. I like pests and the energy they bring to the game. But a lot of them are dirty. And none, besides Sean Avery, are as dirty as Hollweg. To his (sort of) credit, Hollweg, unlike a lot of pests who don't entertain the idea of backing up their chippiness because of their comparatively small size, will drop it like it's hot if someone seeks retaliation. But like most pests, he gets away with murder, and calls it drawing penalties. All that said, no one, outside of the American political system, deserves to take the business end of a composite to the chin. Not even someone who has no compunction about relieving himself on the feet of an unsuspecting partygoer.

Was the punishment fair?
Absolutely. Simon's career is finished, whether the NHL banned him or not. Ted Nolan was likely the only person willing to give Simon a chance at this stage of his career. And likely the only person who could elicit solid production from Simon. Their personal relationship is well-known. Nolan helped him through teenage alcoholism while in junior, according to legend. And his affection for Simon was evident to anyone who saw his brief tenure as a linemate of Alexei Yashin and St. Jason Blake earlier this season. Because, what else could explain the logic of having a slow-as-molasses-in-January winger with little offensive upside on a line with a strong but unmotivated playmaker and a vision-blurring angel on skates? Especially when you have speedy hard-hitters on the team like Trent Hunter. After this, however, I don't think that having Nolan in his corner is going to be enough to salvage Simon's career. Although the Islanders have become an Island of Misfit Toys recently, I doubt that even Charles Wang will opt to re-sign him. It's fitting for the crime that he's going to be deprived of playing the rest of what could've been a Cinderella season and possibly the playoffs. But the real punishment is that his name, along with Marty McSorley and maybe Todd Bertuzzi, is going to be shorthand for unfortunate incidents of hockey violence. He'll be the new "everything that's wrong with the game" for the NHL.

How does the loss of Simon affect the Islanders?
Losing the play of Simon doesn't affect the Islanders terribly. They are anemic in the scoring department with or without him. And even in Simon's past role as an enforcer they won't miss him. As I have complained about on many occasions, Simon has been disturbingly quiet on that end, deferring the fighting duties to the already-spread-thin Brendan Witt, the diminutive and tooth-sacrificing Richard Park, and Arron Asham, who has morphed into a clutch scorer and probably shouldn't do any damage to the hands that produce the Isles' best slap shot. Not to sound like a mouth-breather, but you don't bring in Chris Simon unless you bring him into fight, and he wasn't serving in that capacity. He was producing in streaks though. But goals are just jimmies on the sundae with a player like Simon. He's meant for security. Security he didn't really provide this season. On a mental level though, this is going to have a serious effect on the Isles season. The bad blood generated by the incident is going to cast a long shadow over the little team that could. Watching that scene on TV (or YouTube) was hard enough. Imagine having a front row seat. Even if the Isles have a stronger constitution for violence than I do (which is likely, since they play hockey and don't cry when they walk past the butcher section of the corner Gristedes), than the loss of the veteran presence and rah-rah team guy could have detrimental consequences. The majority of the Islanders defensive corps has only recently begun to shave. So any steadying guidance is welcome. And Simon's history of interesting hair choice will also take some of the heat off of Brendan Witt and his perm.

Cross-posted at SportSquee

1 comment:

Sherry said...

Chris Simon does have a "reputation" but if I remember correctly, I think by all accounts he was playing all right for the Isles and maybe well enough that they might want to keep him for a little longer. Everybody in management and even Nolan seem to be supportive of him but who knows that could all be for show. In any case, I don't know if one good season is enough for anybody out there to take a chance on him knowing what he brings.

If not, I guess he could have a pretty promising career in crocheting.