Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maximum Suspension

When Max Pacioretty lowered the boom on Kris Letang on Saturday night, most of us figured Brendan Shanahan would send him to the press box. The only question was whether the suspension would be for one game or two. Shanahan surprised many by handing down a three-game sentence; a pretty stiff penalty in light of some of the other hits we've seen go unpunished this year. And you know what? Pacioretty deserved it.

He could have let up before making contact with Letang, but he didn't. He knew he was wrong too, as was apparent with his immediate apology. The hit broke Letang's nose, but didn't prevent him from returning to score the winner in OT. Pacioretty, in this case, was very lucky nothing worse happened. Having been the victim of that crushing hit by Zdeno Chara last year, he knows better than most what the consequences of irresposible hits can be. The very fact that he's been there himself and was affected deeply enough to start a foundation to help treat brain injuries should justify the three-game suspension. If a guy who's been on the receiving end of a head shot can still hit another player that way, it shows even the best of intentions can fall by the wayside in the heat of the action. Shanahan's reaction underlines the need for all players to be responsible for what they do on the ice, and accept the consequences for hurting another guy.

This is where the NHL has a problem. While few will dispute that Pacioretty deserved a suspension, it's tough to swallow when Boston's Milan Lucic can run over Buffalo's Ryan Miller, concussing him, and get nothing for it. If the league is to regain a modicum of respect, it has to be consistent in its discipline. The alternative is looking amateurish and appearing as though the NHL brass plays favourites. When conspiracy theories like those become the norm, hockey draws a step closer to professional wrestling in the public's perception.

When Brendan Shanahan became the NHL's Super Cop, many previously-disillusioned fans saw it as a sign of change. The hope was that a former player of Shanahan's stature (without a kid playing in the league) would be the soul of thoughtful justice. That hope grew with the rash of suspensions Shanahan dispensed in the pre-season. The carefully detailed explanation videos he prepared for each case made a lot of sense.

It seems, however, that in the analysis of the minutiae of every hit, Shanahan is losing sight of the bottom line. The question should be, "Did Player X hit Player Y in the head?" If the answer is "yes," then it's suspension-worthy. Shanahan, with his talk of angles of a guy's head, which foot the player's weight rests upon and perceived intent, is making these cases much more convoluted than they should be. In the case of Pacioretty, the player making the hit nailed his opponent in the head and, despite instant remorse, got a significant suspension. Canadiens fans can recognize the risk inherent in that hit and understand the decision.

It's when the super slo-mo view of a fast game provides excuses for glossing over actions that we feel progress is moving at a snail's pace. So, today it's not hard for Habs fans to feel there's no justice in the league. Hits on Pacioretty and Chris Campoli saw the perpetrators go free, while Pacioretty as the hitter rather than the hittee got suspended. The argument today isn't whether he should have been punished, it's why so many others are not. That's what the NHL and Shanahan need to fix.

14 comments:

Steve said...

I could argue against the suspension, it was not a dirty play in any event. However the NHL system of Justice is totally bogus

JF said...

The problem is that the reasoning process is not the same from one hit to another. In the case of Pacioretty's hit on Letang, the same factors were cited as in the case of Malone's hit on Campoli, but the reasoning process was reversed so an opposite conclusion was reached. Shanahan made Malone's hit Campoli's fault by arguing that Campoli moved his head just before the hit. He then says that Letang also moved his head (which the player himself acknowledges), but in this case that movement somehow makes the hit Pacioretty's fault. In the first case, the onus is on the targeted player to protect himself or not put himself in a vulnerable position; in the second, it is on the hitting player to avoid contact.

Shanahan started the pre-season looking as though he was going to take a hard line on questionable hits. But the hit on Campoli in the last pre-season game re-introduced large grey areas into the judgment process. That call was the thin end of the wedge, in that it gave Shanahan all kinds of ways to weasel out of giving a suspension when it wasn't convenient, i.e., when the offender was a star player, a Bruin, a Penguin or any player in a jersey of one of the teams the League certainly looks as though it favours. If a lot of fans share this perception, it's because the League's actions create it. They need to clean up the disciplinary process. It has to be objective and unbiased, and it has to be seen that way.

Anvilcloud said...

Right on! To me, it appears as though Shanny looks for reasons not to punish some guys/teams and reasons to punish some guys/teams. It's like he's blindfolded while throwing a dart at a moving target.

Anonymous said...

Perfect resume, everything is there.
Can't wait (!) to see what will be Shanahan's next "move" when a similar situation will occur.

Harry said...

Although he is one of my favorites, Max did wrong and indeed deserved a suspension.
As you say, its not the suspension to Max but the NON suspensions to others that really is maddening.
Remorse,apparently,is not enough,perhaps he should have grinned like Lucic.
Shanahan is just Campbells clone and puppet.
Thanks for the blog JT

Anonymous said...

Hit to the head = suspension : It should be that simple...

HabsFan29 said...

very thoughtful JT as always

It is the inconsistency that is maddening, as everyone (here and elsewhere in MTL) is saying.

Anonymous said...

So if someone crashes Price in the crease and DD jumps in, drags the guy off, drops them, swings wildly and lays a good one on the guy's knee he gets an instigator right? Then if the guy bends down to grab his knee and DD's shoulder pad breaks the guys nose DD gets three right?

My only question is do they award the Bruins the win or is it necessary to play the game out anyway?

PS: Yeah Max deserved suspension for what he meant to do, Letang deserves the busted nose, and too many people get away with it to make this right.

Anonymous said...

The guy is skating at full-speed and hits another guy skating full-speed in the other direction. I bet you ten to one that in ten occasions you try to hit the guy in the head and you hit him once out of ten times in the head. Hockey is a sport of speed and contact. I like that they try to protect the players but in Pacio's hit, it is clear that there was NO intention to injure the other guy. I have a problem with this. The rest has been said so many times in the last two days, it's as clear now as the lack of Power in our power play.

Thank you for your great blog J.T.

O

Anonymous said...

It's funny you know. I was just watching Max comment on the TSN clip. He mentions about always being taught that when a guy comes across the middle like that you take him out. Now if you watch the clip two habs had Letang. The danger to the team was in Max leaving his guy and being drawn to the puck carrier like a third moth to the flame. Up until seeing that interview I thought Max mistakenly let his check go. But I guess he didn't. So he was willing to let Price handle the shot and a rebound with an uncovered Pen alone. To me that puts a whole new slant on things.

Coach K said...

You've got it right.
I've always drilled it into any kid I've ever coached that there's no honour in hitting any player who is in no position to defend himself. To me it just an act if cowardice. And besides, it's called "body checking", not "head checking". Now if the NHL could get its head out of its nether region on this concept we could actually see progress.

Number31 said...

Biggest problem I have is the inconsistency, the excuses basically pulled out of Shany's fanny, the contradictions between calls... When the season started and he was handing out suspensions like toilet paper, I was happy! I thought "Finally! Someone is serious!" then he dropped the ball on the Campoli hit and it's been inconsistent since then.

Also I think Crosby should have been suspended for his elbow on Foligno because you don't get any more intentional than that. Laughing that off as "just hockey" is ridiculous. Remember when Perezhogin and Stafford engaged in a scrum in front of the net? Stafford swung his stick and missed, Perezhogin swung back and didn't miss, and Stafford fell to the ice twitching. Crosby could have easily retaliated without the elbow drive into Foligno's skull. Would have looked real wonderful for Crosby if Foligno dropped to the ice twitching...

HabsFan4 said...

Your thoughts about the dissection of a heat of the action play that happens in a flash are dead on. Very smart. Am hiring attorneys and will offer you a job and pay for your tuition.

Anonymous said...

soperman says...

I thought the rule of thumb was no more than two games for a telephone hearing? I have no issue with the suspension, Patches deserved it and I think he knows that BUT the punishment is not being dealt out fairly (some players have a whole lot of weight put on the fact they were not previous offenders - Patches is now an offender, but is Lucic? Certainly Chara, the shaved ape is not) AND three games was pretty harsh when considering other suspensions.