A Class Act: Are Our Expectations Of NHL Players Too High?

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If there’s one thing NHL fans like to hang their hat on, it’s that their beloved players are “class acts.” And, in many cases, they are.

New York Islanders fans have been lucky enough to have their superstar, John Tavares, grow into a true professional and face of the franchise, despite the ups and downs of the team since his being drafted no. 1 overall in 2009. Even Kyle Okposo, who many say was snubbed from the 2014 USA Olympic roster, continued to support his team while gracefully accepting the challenge of making USA Hockey regret their decision to go to Sochi without him.

We even saw (and heard) Patrick Kane give Jared Spurgeon some words of encouragement in the handshake line after the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the Minnesota Wild in the sixth game of the Western Conference Semifinals:

If you didn’t catch it, Kane said, “You’re a heck of a player buddy, you’re gonna be sick in this league, keep it going.”

However, this perception of class doesn’t extended to every player in the league, nor should does every fan believe that to be the case. What fans have a right to expect from the players is for them to exhibit a certain level of respect for one another and, most of all, exhibit respect for the game and its traditions (especially from players who get a lot of TV time). This brings us to the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which have seen a number of players display acts of poor sportsmanship. The most surprising part is the specific players involved, some of whom we’ve held to a high standard.

Our example, in juxtaposition to Kane’s kind words to Spurgeon, are Milan Lucic‘s, well, not-so-kind words to a number of players on the Montreal Canadiens following the Boston Bruins’ 3-1 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals:

According to Dale Weise, Lucic said, “I’m going to [expletive ] kill you next year.”

When asked about the incident, Lucic responded, “That’s said on the ice so it’ll stay on the ice, so if he wants to be a baby about it, he can make it public.”

Regardless of what Lucic’s intentions were, be his alleged statement being figurative or very much real—or whether Weise was in the right to comment on it publicly—Lucic should have acted like he had been there before. Which he has, since the Bruins have been on both the winning and losing ends of series-deciding games over the last few years. Furthermore, I can’t see a reason why Lucic would find that an acceptable thing to say not only to Weise, but to other Canadiens players as well.

Does this mean players who cross the line in a moment of frustration are terrible people deep down inside? Or does this mean our expectations are too high for taking them to task when they do cross the line? Personally, I think it’s reasonable to expect professionals to, you know, act like professionals, especially if they’re in the spotlight.

-JZ (@jonzella)

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