Caps coach spins more than old Comical Ali in defending Ovie


<b> </b>There is a limit to how far even a hockey coach can go in trying to protect his players before he loses all credibility -- and Washington Caps' Bruce Boudreau has just exceeded it.


Items that may grow up to be columns, Vol. XII, Chapter 18:

BOO!-DREAU: There is a limit to how far even a hockey coach can go in trying to protect his players before he loses all credibility -- and Washington Caps' Bruce Boudreau has just exceeded it.

Short of "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," have you ever heard such a load of horse-pucky as Boudreau's defence of Alex Ovechkin, after the superstar forward buried Chicago defenceman Brian Campbell in the end boards last week, incurring a two-game suspension?

"The hit didn't cause the damage. The boards caused the damage," said Boudreau, channelling an old Bill Cosby comedy routine in which the comedian's excuse for a car accident was: "Honestly, officer, I was just driving along when this tree jumped out and bit my car."

ONE SIZE FITS ALL: Or maybe Boudreau just reasoned that since Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin got nothing more than a two-minute penalty for driving Canuck Willie Mitchell headfirst into the boards in mid-January, Ovechkin shouldn't be suspended, either.

The situations, after all, are identical: Great Russian hits top-three defenceman, puts him out for months. Why pick on poor Ovie?

With logic like that, can it be long before Boudreau rises to the level of NHL general manager?

Take off the blinders, man. As great a player as Ovechkin is, he's a repeat, repeat, repeat offender. He has these brain-dead moments when he flips out and does stupid, reckless things to other players. He needs to stop, or be stopped.

THE OLD TAP DANCE: A long-ago soccer writer can't watch the NHL trying to backpedal from its inexplicable refusal to suspend headhunting repeat offender Matt Cooke without thinking of Dutch coach Hans Kraay of NASL days, explaining a series of apparently panicky personnel moves.

"Don't shoot me, boys," he pleaded to a couple of reporters. "I'm playing the piano as fast as I can."

IT'S A MIRACLE: Now that the deafening response to discipline czar Colin Campbell's weak-kneed stance on the Cooke-Marc Savard assassination attempt has made it clear, even to the NHL, that public revulsion is nearing an all-time high, suddenly a group of conscientious objectors has appeared among the ranks of GMs.

Supposedly unanimous on a new rule outlawing blindside head hits that was, alas, impossible to implement before next season, it now seems to be possible after all -maybe by the end of the week. What a coincidence.

As ESPN's John Buccigross points out in his NHL blog, a couple of years ago when Sean Avery was waving his stick back and forth across Martin Brodeur's field of vision like a windshield wiper to obstruct his view, the NHL managed an in-season rule change in exactly one day.

But to save their players' brains from potentially life-changing damage, they couldn't put the new headhunting rule into effect immediately?

Yes, they could. And now, it appears they will.

THE RUDDERLESS P.A.: It's no sure thing -given the players association's staunch opposition to acting in the interests of the members' health -but it might even happen that the five players on the NHL's competition committee, which theoretically has to approve the rule change before it goes to the Board of Governors, could insist on broadening the rule or otherwise "tweaking" it.

We're making progress, folks. Any century now, they're going to ban head shots altogether, the way the International Ice Hockey Federation and pretty much every other thinking organization in the free world already has.

MEMO TO SELF: Next time the NHL's collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation and an NHL owner even dares to cry poor, remember to ask how much money it has cost to carry some of Gary Bettman's misguided expansion markets on life support, and how much those franchises are actually worth now, and how much has been spent in legal costs to disentangle from bad owners who somehow passed the NHL's "due diligence" requirements.

IF YOU'RE COUNTING: The NHL is now 0-for-2 with very real chances to capture significant attention in the United States.

After the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, a lockout killed half the ensuing season, and ever since the Canada-U.S. Olympic gold medal final two weeks ago, the league has been getting killed on U.S. (and Canadian) television for its senseless handling of the Matt Cooke debacle. The buzz in America? Gone.

Ever hear the expression sports psychologists often use: Fear of success?

That about covers it.

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