Since Brendan Shanahan took over the discipline from Colin Campbell, he’s been extremely consistent with his suspensions, sending a clear message to all NHL players: DON’T HIT PLAYER’S HEAD!
Since the start of pre-season, Shanahan has suspended 9 players and has handed out a total of 59 pre-season and regular seasons’ games of suspension. The players are: Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Jody Shelley, James Wisniewski, Brad Staubitz, Brad Boyes, Tom Sestito, J-F Jacques, Brendan Smith and Clark MacArthur. It is interesting to note that all but one player (Jacques for leaving the bench to fight) were suspended for Rule 41.1 (Boarding) or 48.1 (Illegal check to the head), mostly on hits occurring when players were in a vulnerable position.
On Saturday night in Quebec City, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone was running everyone and everything over all night and with the game out of hand for his team with just a few minutes to play, he nailed Montreal Canadiens’ defenseman Chris Campoli with a hit to the head while Campoli was in a vulnerable position as he was reaching for the puck. The referees judged that it was indeed an infraction as Malone received a major penalty for hit to the head and was ejected from the game. Here’s the video:
It came as a surprise to many (if not most) when Shanahan rendered his decision and chose to let Malone walk free of any disciplinary action.
Not wanting to judge if he’s right or wrong here, I’m truly trying to wrap my head around what it is that Shanahan is trying to accomplish, or the message he’s trying to send as prior to this decision, the message was crystal clear in my mind. Looking at all of the other infractions and suspensions handed out by Shanahan so far, seeing that in many of those cases, the players victimized by the hits did put themselves in vulnerable positions and the explanations up until now were that the onus was on the hitter to avoid contact, I will say that I now have no clue of what’s permitted or not anymore. If I’m questioning my understanding of the rules, it’s not farfetched to think that players could feel the same way.
Is it at all possible that Shanahan is already feeling the pressure from the Governors and/or the NHLPA, or does he now find it harder to suspend a Top 6 forward?
Some players have already raised concerns that the sport was heading towards a non-hitting game as none of them want to risk a suspension costing them considerable amounts of cash. James Wisniewski has to forfeit over $536,000 in salary for his suspension so it’s hard to argue against their thinking.
Sometimes, by trying to solve an issue, you create other more important problems. When the league, in their attempt to prevent goons from going after star players, amended the instigator rule, they created a monster by protecting cheap-shot artists who now have carte-blanche to target the same stars. When they added the hitting from behind rule, they wanted to protect the players. Instead, the players now face the boards more than ever, often at the last minute, to avoid getting hit and putting themselves at risk in vulnerable positions. With the uncertainty of suspensions tied into hits to the head or boarding, it looks like there could be less and less hitting in the near future. If you add to that the movement by certain people to get rid of fighting in the game, and you’ll have the perfect recipe to further encourage cheap shots in the game that we love.
Trying to improve on something that was already good does not always have the desired effects.