Johan Franzen's Head Shot and His Opportunity for a Wonderful Heel-Turn Moment

If you watched the Wings/Rangers "Rivalry Night" game last night, you were treated to what could have been a very fun hockey game marred by the kind of reffing you expect to see in a Tim Peel game. While minor mistakes happen all the time and the refs always get a little bit of leeway for being only human, this one was a special brand of dumb.

  • A goal from a sharp angle entered the net and left swiftly. Play continued for several minutes until a stoppage led the refs over to the scorer's table where they could be told that the ref standing directly behind the net looking at the play somehow missed the puck going in. No harm, no foul here I guess, unless you count the wasted minutes that had to be put back on the clock.
  • Danny DeKeyser took a stick blade to the face a few inches below his eye. This opened up an immediately-bleeding cut that DeKeyser had to have taped back shut before he could take his next shift. To the refs' credit, they recognized that DeKeyser was down FOR SOME REASON and stopped the play, but after conferring together, none of the four officials could decide that a play which happened one foot behind where the puck was actually constituted high-sticking.
  • Minutes later, Johan Franzen either punched or cross-checked the offending high-sticker on a rush toward the Red Wings' net. The puck was in the vicinity as Franzen trailed Hagelin (himself the trailer on the play) and viciously took him down. No penalty was called on this play either.

Let's take a closer look at the Franzen play:

Yeah, there's no doubt about what Franzen did there. This is a blatant head-shot and one that could (and should) earn him a call from the Department of Player Safety.

If he does end up getting a suspension, I want Franzen to take his lumps here, but I also see a great opportunity for the Mule to deliver back a few lumps himself. What I'd like is for Franzen to give the league a reason to address the elephant in the room as far as it comes to player safety.

"You know why we have enforcers in this game and why we police ourselves? Because we see stuff like that no-call on the high-stick and it tells us the only way it's going to be made right is if we do it ourselves. The league wants me not to do that? Get refs who don't make it necessary."

Now, we all know Franzen isn't going to do this. He's got a good mouth on him (especially when it comes to Chris Neil), but he'd get absolutely excoriated for saying this, and there would be good reason. Basically admitting that you cracked a guy in the back of the head to get revenge on both him and the refs is the kind of monster act you only see in badly written movies. Franzen would be painting a target on himself both for the league and among his fellow players. Fans both inside and outside the Red Wings' fanbase would turn on him for any combination of what would be considered whining and/or cartoonish villainy.

But the thing is that he wouldn't be entirely wrong. What Johan Franzen did to Carl Hagelin last night fits neatly within the unwritten code of hockey. Even if what Hagelin did was an accident, a message is sent which is supposed to say "don't have that kind of accident ever again." Johan Franzen going down to shed light on that unwritten code could potentially go a long way towards entirely exposing just how much cow dung is hiding in the uncodified rules of hockey.

I think maybe the fact that a player martyring himself against the entirety of hockey culture in order to shed light on the darker side of it is actually a move I'd support speaks to how insanely dumb enforcer culture is to me (with the understanding that I still wish Franzen hadn't done this). Johan Franzen will probably get punished for attacking Carl Hagelin last night and he should. In a perfectly just world, there's no room for Franzen to do this for any reason. However, the idea that giving an actual semi-defensible reason would make things worse for him pretty well shows it's not exactly a perfectly just world.

Franzen will go down alone for it because there's simply not enough interest in having the kind of discussion into what it would take to actually prevent this stuff in the future. Johan Franzen's act last night wasn't an aberration in hockey, but it will be treated like one because it's better for the game that way.