Monday, May 6, 2013
For Shanahan, damage control, not justice
By Scott Burnside
The road to Brendan Shanahan's door should be renamed The Path of Least Resistance.
Whatever is guaranteed to create the least amount of fuss, whatever allows the latest ugly on-ice mess to dissipate into the ether as quickly as possible, that's what will be brought forth by the office the league's Lord of Discipline.
As was the case a year ago when the first round of the playoffs erupted in a frenzy of cheap shots and dangerous hits, the NHL's opening round this spring has seen bloodshed and suspensions.
Looks like the message is really getting through.
But it's not really about the message, is it?
It's about smoothing things over.
Brendan Shanahan, right, and his predecessor, Colin Campbell, have created more confusion than clarity when it comes to NHL discipline.
That's why Shanahan suspended Eric Gryba for what most hockey observers, including coaches, players and general managers we've spoken to in recent days, believe was a perfectly legal hockey hit on Montreal's Lars Eller.
Listen to Shanahan's video announcing the two-game ban, and he might as well have been explaining cold fusion. So much gobbledygook and double-speak to mask what was in the end another missed mark.
Had Shanahan simply come out and said "this is a hit we don't want in our game, and we are going to take it out, and it's going to start now with a 10-game ban," then we could have lived with that. In fact, a number of executives we spoke to in the wake of Gryba's devastating hit on Eller believe the hit needs to be taken out of the game.
That doesn't change the fact that the suspension wasn't framed that way, and that by the letter of the law, that's how defenders are taught to play.
If you want to call something an apple, then call it an apple. But don't say apple and then explain oranges, which is what the Gryba suspension became.
What confuses the issue even further -- and if there is a word to describe the NHL's attempt to modify on-ice mayhem in recent years, both under Shanahan and his predecessor Colin Campbell, it's confusion –- is the subsequent suspension of Detroit's Justin Abdelkader for two games for launching himself at a vulnerable Toni Lydman of the Anaheim Ducks.
Same suspension, so it must be the same play, right?
Ha-ha. Just kidding. They're two completely different scenarios.
Abdelkader launched himself at Lydman, targeting the head with the shoulder, exploding up and into the unsuspecting player.
The Ducks revealed that Lydman has severe headaches and a sore neck, and he is bothered by bright lights, all of which points to Lydman having suffered a concussion. That's no shock given the dangerous nature of the hit. He also isn't expected to play in Game 4 of the Wings/Ducks series. Again, no surprise.
This is the kind of activity the NHL has been trying for a number of years to eradicate, but we continue to see those kinds of hits on a regular basis.
Whatever the league thinks it's doing in terms of education and/or supplemental discipline, it's not working. The Minnesota Wild are without top forward Jason Pominville as they try to keep pace with the Chicago Blackhawks after a sneaky dirty elbow to the head from Dustin Brown late in the regular season.
The Kings' captain received a nice two-game break at the end of the regular season, which allowed him to rest up for the playoffs while Pominville’s absence could cost the Wild millions of dollars in playoff revenues.
The tendency in the playoffs has been to modify down the number of games a player is suspended for because the value of each game is greater, and so a five-game suspension in the regular season might be rationalized into a one-game ban in the postseason. Where's the logic in that?
What if Lydman cannot return to the series against Detroit? Yet Abdelkader, who has been playing on the Wings' top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, will be back for what could be deciding games?
How does that make sense? How is that justice?
Truth is, it has always been less about justice and making sense than simply making things go away when it comes to the NHL's peculiar efforts at controlling its on-ice mayhem.