Taking Colin Campbell out of the disciplinarian role was a step in the right direction for the NHL in cracking down on plays that target players heads, and end careers and lives early. Making Brendan Shanahan his impromptu replacement as also a step in the right direction.
But how far have we actually evolved from biased decisions and invalid suspensions? The recent decisions by the NHLs henchmen are an accurate representation of the fact that we have not evolved far enough to punish repeat offenders properly and eliminate the injury causing hits from the game.
I take you back to the preseason this year, in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the First Niagara Center. Brad Boyes, after the game had a hit on Joe Colborne reviewed, and was found to be in violation of the new hits to the head mandate, and was suspended for two games. As much as I don’t want to dwell on this, there are a few issues with it:
- It was preseason, and he was suspended for preseason games. He actually missed out on nothing, becuase he was not fined, did not lose wages, and was probably not going to get a huge amount of ice time in the remaining two preseason games – as he was not fighting for a roster spot.
- Brad Boyes does not hit period. The fact that he was in that situation was rare. Now if it happens again, he will be considered a repeat offender.
- My other issue? Guys are getting punished for legitimate hits where the receiving player is at fault . I am not saying that all hits to the head or from behind, or where the head is targetted are the receivers fault. But If a guy puts his head down in a position where he knows he can be hit – you can’t fault a guy for hitting him. If Colborne had his head up on that play like players are taught from the get go, he gets it in the chest and nothing happens.
- Boyes was not penalized on the play for the hit.
- Earlier in the game Paul Gaustad was hit in the numbers, which sent him awkwardly into the boards. Colby Armstrong was penalized on the play, but no suspension ensued. Because of the position of this hit along the boards it posed a bigger threat to the receiving player than the Boyes/Colborne hit.
Early last night the league handed down a mere fine to Nashville Predators defensemen Shea Weber. Just a fine. Seems to me that the guidelines for handing out fines and suspensions to players is still arbitrary and based on the leagues standards for what a player brings to the game as far as marketable value goes.
Or it could be the start of a process which brings about a fine, then a suspension, then subsequent status of a repeat offender status that bring son heavier penalties with each subsequent visit to Shanahan’s office.
To me, unless there is a written standard of what is going to get you suspended and for how long, the system remains arbitrary. So long as that the czar of punishment/player safety is on the NHLs payroll, mitigating factors such as star power are going to factor in to the equation. While it might be costly for the league, having a third party arbitrator reviewing each game/penalty for possible suspension-worthy scenarios may be the only way to take the star power out of the factoring process.
If you don’t want to completely go with someone outside of the organization, the position should be filled with someone who has no concerted special interest in the league what so ever. While Shanahan may be a good choice for the position, you can’t tell me he doesn’t have a soft spot for teams he played for/was taking care of by – or guys he may have befriended while playing.