Sunday, March 2, 2008

chris simon, chronic offenders, and the hockey recidivist

for the first time in team history, the local call-in shows, letters to the editor, and message boards are awash in criticism of the minnesota wild. minnesota hockey fans are in revolt over the team's recent trade for chris simon (left), the most notorious goon in hockey.

in truth, the term goon doesn't do mr. simon justice. for there is honor among goons and the wild's latest acquisition has consistently violated the clear-cut norms and behavioral expectations of the enforcer role. as a criminologist, i'd characterize mr. simon as a violent recidivist. think that's too strong? here's how the strib summarizes his career accomplishments:

  • 30 games (December 2007): The longest suspension in NHL history, after Simon, playing for the Islanders, stomped on Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu with his skate on Dec. 15.
  • 25 games (March 2007): Then, the longest suspension in league history, for his two-handed stick attack to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg.
  • 5 preseason games (1994): While with Quebec, swung his stick at Ottawa's Dennis Vial but missed.
  • 3 games (1997): With Washington, he used a racial slur toward Edmonton's Mike Grier, who is black.
  • 2 games (2004): Crosschecked Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko and then jumped on him and punched him.
  • 2 games (2004): Kneed Dallas' Sergei Zubov.
  • 2 games (2001): Elbowed Florida's Anders Eriksson.
  • 1 game (2000): In the playoffs with the Capitals, he was suspended for crosschecking Pittsburgh's Peter Popovic across the throat.

the press even covers mr. simon as though he were a criminal rather than an athlete. the times, for example, writes that mr. simon needs help and counseling, while sports illustrated calls mr. simon a "hockey recidivist," tracing his criminal history back to the junior leagues:

... In the Ontario junior hockey league Simon was a disciplinary nightmare. Although the OHL was unable to provide records, The Sault Star (of Sault Sainte Marie, Ont.) reported that in 1991-92 he was suspended eight times for a total of 34 games -- 32 by the league and two by the team. The previous season, when the Soo Greyhounds acquired Simon from the Ottawa 67s, he was serving a 12-game suspension for having slashed Niagara Falls Thunder defenseman David Babcock in the face, breaking seven teeth and opening a gash that required 21 stitches.

i always teach a bit on chronic offenders in my delinquency class, citing marvin wolfgang et al.'s (1972) finding that 6 percent of the 1945 philadelphia birth cohort was responsible for 52 percent of that cohort's police contacts. would a similar pattern of chronic offending hold in hockey?

my quick-n-dirty analysis of cbs sports' 2007-2008 penalty statistics indicates that 6 percent of hockey players are responsible for about 21 percent of the penalty minutes. if i throw 30-game suspensions into the mix, of course, the top 6 percent would be responsible for a significantly larger share of the penalty and suspension minutes.

violence is deeply engrained in hockey culture, so minnesotans can appreciate good physical hockey. after all, the real-life hanson brothers learned to play in virginia, minnesota (warning: bad language and worse violence in this clip, but this one seems to feature paul wellstone as a referee). while the violent hansons shocked their fellow players, however, chris simon reminds me of slap shot's other goon: the feared ogie oglethorpe.

i almost expect the wild announcer to introduce him with a riff on jim carr's movie intro: "Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him. Well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle. Number six, Ogie Oglethorpe.

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