Today in sports: The kickoff may be going to the way of leather helmets, hockey players are making up lost fighting time this postseason, and Bobby Valentine is working his divisive magic in Boston.
New York Giants owner John Mara, a member of the NFL's all-powerful Competition Committee, let it slip last week that the league was "evolving toward" getting rid of kickoffs, because they're too dangerous. This is disappointing, because kickoffs are exciting and provide a tactical edge for certain teams. Mara didn't elaborate on how teams will know where to begin their offensive drive without kick returns: Grantland's Bill Barnwell speculates the league will use some variation on the two-hand touch "Everyone starts from the 20-yard-line policy" (or perhaps the 30 after field goals), which would be safer, but also take a huge strategical component out of the game. [Grantland]
Fighting, along with "questionable hits and other dangerous tactics," has returned with a vengeance so far in the first round of the NHL playoffs, following a regular season where brawling was down and new league discipline czar Brendan Shanahan earned plaudits for placing an added emphasis on safe play. This is doubly surprising because the old hockey saw is that fighting tends to decrease in the postseason, because nobody wants to be suspended. Not so in 2012. "Entering Monday night’s games," The New York Times' Christopher Botta reports, "4 players have been suspended, and 724 penalty minutes have been assessed,..[t]here were 11 game-misconduct penalties during the first five days of this year’s playoffs. In the entire 2011 postseason, there were only six. During the regular season, the average number of fights per game was .49, the lowest in five years. Through Sunday night, the average in this year’s playoffs was .84." There's a perception that Shanahan has softened his no-nonsense approach: specifically, those around the game suggest his decision not to suspend Nashville defenseman Shea Weber after he put Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg "in a headlock and attempted to ram Zetterberg’s head into the glass in the final seconds of the Predators’ Game 1 win" may have "opened the door for the weekend’s raucousness." [The New York Times]