For some 59 years, Detroit Red Wings fans have been tossing eight-legged creatures on the ice during the national anthem, after the home team scores or just to rile up the crowd. If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gets his way, that tradition is dead in the water.
A fan from Canton, Mich. was reportedly ejected and slapped with a $500 fine after he tossed an octopus on the ice during Game 1 of the Red Wings' first round series with the Phoenix Coyotes. Red Wings playoff tickets aren't cheap (nor is a $500 fine) and now the NHL all of a sudden has a stone in their shoe about a tradition that they've looked the other way at for half a century.
The tradition started back in 1952 when two brothers realized that the eight legs of the octopus equaled the number of wins it took to claim the Stanley Cup (mind you this was back when there were only six teams). They tossed an octopus onto the ice during the playoffs, "helping" the Red Wings sweep their way to a Stanley Cup. Fans have been tossing octopuses ever since, for the most part without intervention by the league.
It's a tradition that has been copied, but never repeated successfully. The Florida Panthers tossed rats—rubber ones—onto the ice during their 1996 Stanley Cup playoff run. The Edmonton Oilers tried chucking chunks of Alberta beef. The San Jose Sharks even had a guy throw an actual shark onto the ice—with an octopus in its mouth—during last year's series between the Sharks and Red Wings.
Many have tried, but none have stuck. So, what gives with the octopus crackdown? Opposing players have never complained, according to Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Hell, even Shane Doan, the captain of the Coyotes, seems to enjoy the tradition.
"It's fine'' Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Tradition's fun. It's a good part of sports. You understand it was a long, long time ago when there was only eight games (needed) to win (the Stanley Cup). It's pretty special here. Part of their game.''
Doan hasn't endeared himself to the Detroit fanbase with his aggressive play against the Wings, especially after he rearranged Johan Franzen's face in Game 2. But if he's okay with it, why is the NHL just now getting around to this? Did they get bored after settling the head shot rules?
The most criminal part about this is that the NHL isn't even taking responsibility. They're using the Detroit Police as a shield for their anti-fan movement, making police officers at games punish those who are "violating local and state laws.''
Yeah, that's classy. Instead of Bettman coming out and saying himself that he's officially killing the tradition, he's using the local police as his henchmen to do the dirty work.
It's not clear when the league decided they'd had enough, but according to Matt Saler of On the Wings, Detroit police were informed by the league sometime before or during the game that nothing was to be thrown on the ice surface during the game. The police, who said they had no problem with the tradition, were handcuffed by Emperor Bettman.
This isn't the first time the octopus has been targeted under Bettman's watch. During the 2008 playoffs, Joe Louis Arena building manager Al Sobotka—who the Wings' giant purple octopus mascot is named for—was banned from twirling the cephalopods over his head on the ice because 'matter' was getting on the players. After some outrage, the NHL eventually allowed Sobotka to resume twirling—in the Zamboni entrance.
Fan outrage might not be enough to thwart the evil empire again. Five hundred bucks may not be a lot to some people, but in economically-challenged Detroit that's a big chunk of change. Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood, one of the team's elder statesmen, ripped the NHL's action's:
"It's a little ridiculous they're concerned about a tradition that goes on at our rink - or any other rink around the league for that matter," Osgood said in an interview with 97.1-FM's Jeff Riger. "Do they want everybody coming to the rink and sit up on their hands and not do anything? It's gotten a little bit exaggerated. People are taking it a little bit too seriously."
Osgood wasn't done. He then questioned other things that the NHL could take away from fans at games:
"Other things that could change, maybe the consumption of just one beer game," Osgood said. "To me, you come to a sporting event to have fun first and foremost. We can't take this too far and start taking away what people are there to do."
To their credit, the NHL does have a legitimate beef with things being thrown on the ice surface. After all, it was just a simple cup of beer that ignited the 2004 brawl at the Palace of Auburn HIlls. Player safety is a concern and if someone's aim was off and a player got hit with an octopus I'd imagine they wouldn't be happy about it. Nobody wants another incident where fans and players are attacking each other.
But hockey rinks have something basketball courts don't: Plexiglas. If the NHL is concerned about someone trying to fight a player on the ice, there's more than enough time to stop them before they get over the glass. And to my knowledge, no player has ever been hit with an octopus, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Red Wings fans don't target people when they throw anyways. They don't have to do that to make their point clear; the octopus on the ice does all the talking for them.
Bettman has mismanaged the league to the point where he is now taking away team traditions. It's just another proud mark on a resume that features a canceled season and the enforcement of ridiculous hooking penalties while cross checks to the head go unnoticed. Oh, and don't forget moving a hockey team from the birthplace of the sport to the middle of the desert, only to be on the verge of moving them back a decade and a half later because it turns out hockey isn't popular there.
What's next, as Osgood put it before? Will they disallow the throwing of hats after a player scores three times? Will "Don't Stop Believing" be banned from Joe Louis Arena because there's actually no place called 'South Detroit'? What about the "Detroit Sucks" chant in Chicago? If they take that away, Blackhawks fans won't have anything to say at all.
I could understand this rule if the NHL was having problems with people throwing a bunch of trash or beer cans on the ice. But there is no such epidemic. This is a direct shot at the Detroit tradition.
Who knows what the NHL's actual motive is for this asinine assault on tradition. They certainly haven't given us one good reason for it. But something tells me that this won't just go away. While $500 is a lot of money, there's always going to be someone willing to pay the price to toss an octopus at a Red Wings playoff game.
It is tradition after all.