Maxim Lapierre has apologized for driving Dan Boyle into the boards. He feels terrible.
Well, that's good. At least he's got a moral conscience about these sort of things. Let's see what else he has to say.
"I was just trying to finish my hit. But like I said, it's no excuse."
Wait, what? He was just trying to finish his hit?
Oh dear. He's totally missing the point.
This isn't to single out Lapierre; you could probably slot any number of players into this situation and they'd say the same thing. These types of payers have to understand the reality of the situation. That starts with getting rid of the self-justifications and apologies and look at the real issue: they're trying to finish a hit that's illegal by the NHL rulebook. These hits put the opponent in danger and their team at a disadvantage.
In short, it's stupid, regardless of what team you're on.
For the Lapierre/Boyle situation, this screen cap pretty much shows it all.
It comes down to sound decisions, or lack thereof. First off, he didn't need to make initial contact -- Boyle let go of the puck with enough time for Lapierre to let up. Second, he didn't have to hit Boyle directly in the numbers -- there's a reason why youth players wear stop signs on their backs. Third, he didn't have to extend the arms and propel Boyle forward.
As some have pointed out, Boyle was slipping at that point, and who knows if he would have regained his balance or not. However, that doesn't nullify the point that Lapierre made the decision to check from behind, which, at the very least, is a minor penalty to his team.
43.1 Checking from Behind - A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed.
What's the proper thing to do? There are really three ways to go about this:
1) Get body position on Boyle -- who was already slowing down -- and hit him shoulder-to-shoulder into the boards.
2) Ignore Boyle and follow the puck back to Matt Irwin.
3) Ignore Boyle and Irwin and hightail it back into the play.
Those are all viable split-second decisions that are based on a player knowing his own skillset and also what the coach demands. None of those involve taking a penalty.
Thing is, for a lot of so-called dirty players, particularly the ones who bring more to the table, you can coach the stupidity out. After all, these are players who've spent the majority of their lives listening to a coach in an effort to evolve their game. Matt Cooke is an example of how this is possible, as he's been able to sidestep stupidity and focus on the positive aspects of his game -- so much so that he's trying to proselytize to Patrick Kaleta.
(Side note: I'm sure you'll notice that I haven't brought up Raffi Torres. While it seems like much of the hockey world, including Jarrett Stoll, put Torres' hit last year as somewhere between "hockey play" and "penalty", I didn't want to re-open that debate. But for the record, Torres' cites Dave Tippett and his staff for breaking down video and helping him understand how and when he should do things differently.)
Thus, the issue really is trying to determine the unknown factor that motivates a player's change from within. Is it value to the team? A personal sense of morals? Or is it simply the idea of ice time and a contract?
It's probably a little bit of all of that with a heavier emphasis on the fear of unemployment. Players like Cooke will always have this follow them around, and perhaps that's rightly so. It's the same thing with addicts -- they're never cured, they're just recovering. Cooke may have had the re-training and discipline to have successful seasons but that doesn't mean that he won't ever slip back into old habits.
As for players who haven't hit that come-to-Jeebus moment yet, what's it going to take? Will a game misconduct really make a difference to Patrick Kaleta? What about a ten-game suspension? I'm guessing no, and if you look at what drove Cooke and Torres to honestly look at themselves, it started with a more extreme suspension (Cooke's was 10 regular season games and the first round of the playoffs, which going by the double-value-for-playoffs multiplier, was a total of 24 games; Torres got 25 before he actively began to rethink his game). That was followed by coaching rehab (Cooke worked with Dan Bylsma, Torres with Tippett). For players that consistently show that they're thinking the game the wrong way, perhaps 20 games is the starting point to get a message through.
20 games is a quarter of a season. That's a pretty big chunk of money to lose for muckers and grinders. Not only does that sting their wallets, 20 games is a LONG time to consider whether or not you're playing the right way.
It's significant enough that players, coaches, and GMs would take notice. Players should get a wake-up call (it doesn't always work; see Steve Downie) while coaches and GMs will have to weigh whether or not they want such a liability in their lineup -- and if so, what can they do to curtail the behavior. Pushing things to this extreme creates a delicate balance by all parties, hopefully weeding out the players who can't transition while being the turning point for players are willing and able to change.
Either way, something has to happen. Regardless of who you root for, no one wants to see another stretcher incident, especially when it's clear that such an outcome came from something as simple as a series of bad decisions.