Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. That seems to explain how most fans, media, and certain players feel about the NHL’s disciplinary dean Brendan Shanahan these days. Put under the microscope for the brawls and injuries piling up in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shanahan is now feeling the heat much more now than he has at any point during the regular season. Also, Shanny isn’t exactly making any new friends with his recent decisions to take no action on dirty hits.
Rangers vs. Senators, Penguins vs. Flyers, Predators vs. Red Wings and Sharks vs. Blues are series that right off the bat come to mind regarding the antics, cheap shots, and brawls. It looks as though the officials have had no control over any of these series. Even if the officials miss calls on the ice, a suspension can still be made for clear rule violations when Shanahan reviews the video.
The most controversial hit of the postseason that had everyone talking came when star defenseman Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators decided to slam Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards like it was a WWE turnbuckle. Two team officials and almost every writer I talked to felt that it would be a suspension, and I shared that belief. However, Weber was only fined $2500 by the NHL and was off the hook with no suspension. Shea Weber wipes his you know what with $2500 as he makes a high end seven-figure salary. This one missed suspension that could have been nipped in the bud many believe started the crap streaming downstream in future games. Players now think they can get away with a lack of respect for their peers, since Weber got off with just a minor fine. And as a result, the cheap shots have continued in other games of other series.
Shea Weber’s Controversial Play on Henrik Zetterberg
I used to believe everyone with NHL conspiracy theories was a loon, but as many have pointed out, plays like this give those folks a lot more ammo. They start to ask more questions. Is it because it’s the playoffs? Is it because Weber is a star? Is it because the NHL wants hockey to survive in Nashville? Outrageous claims, the NHL would say. But it’s their own fault for not nipping Weber in the bud. It would have taken out the conspiracy theories at the same time.
Another cheap shot was performed by San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns as he intentionally elbows Scott Nichol in the back of the head. This was not even given a hearing by Shanahan.
Brent Burns Controversial Elbow on Scott Nichol
The idea that no suspensions are given out unless the victim is injured is a flawed strategy. If a thief attempts to shoot someone while robbing a bank but they miss, do they get off the hook for that? No. They get charged with attempted murder. This stone age thinking by the NHL is what is giving the league a black eye in the national media as well as with the casual fans. Almost every major sports website is talking about the lack of action by the league as well as the on-ice performance of the league’s officials. That’s not good.
While Shanahan’s lack of action is disgraceful, the officials have done an equally bad job controlling these playoff games.
The job of an NHL official is extremely difficult, and I try to avoid tearing into officials. However, the officiating has been an absolute disgrace in the playoffs thus far, and if anyone in the NHL office thinks that they’re doing a good job, they need to turn in their resignation immediately.
The Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Game 3 on Sunday was by far the worst of the playoffs as far as discipline when guys were getting run at every angle while the referees struggled to control it. The night prior, Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson was knocked out of his game against the Rangers after a dangerous elbow by Carl Hagelin, who has since been suspended 3 games, the most significant postseason suspension to date. Another example of a suspension only following an injury.
Still, a lot of these cheap shots in later games could have been controlled by going back and addressing the most controversial hit of the playoffs thus far.
If Shanahan were to have sent a strong message by suspending Weber, he could have limited the circus show. However, now not only do the players have no respect for each other, it’s clear they don’t have any for the league office either. What’s worse is the continued mayhem shows the players couldn’t give a damn about the officials and have absolutely no respect for them or their ability to control the game.
Don’t get me wrong, fighting is a key part of hockey and when done the right way and with honor, it does have a place in the game. However, sucker punches and cheap shots do not have a place in the game. And unfortunately that’s what we’ve been seeing.
Shanahan was off to a hot start as discipline dean in the beginning of the regular season. He was on the competition committee for many years and a well respected voice on getting hockey back to the roots of the game. These days he comes off as just another guy who played hockey in the 90’s that is stubborn and unwilling to change the dangerous code of conduct.
With the recent cheap shots in the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers Game 3 embarrassment on Sunday afternoon, Shanahan will need to send a strong message and evaluate possible suspensions to forwards Arron Asham and James Neal. Asham cross-checked Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn in the throat and followed that by punching him in the head while he was already face down on the ice. Neal leveled forward Sean Couturier well after the puck left, and received a charging penalty (probably not warranting further discipline based on the NHL’s flawed system), but then seemed to target the head of Claude Giroux right after that, capping the Penguins unraveling on the day. The league probably needs to take a look at that one, seen at the 4:08 mark of the below video.
James Neal’s Controversial Play
Brendan Shanahan may seem like a hypocrite by starting to suspend people now for things termed “not as bad” as the Weber hit. But for Shanahan, it’s better late than never. If he takes no action at all, he will lose the confidence of the hockey world, whatever confidence they have left in him. If Shanahan does not get on board quick, he will quickly be labeled a failure in this role which many writers and fans have already termed him. It’s already looking doubtful that Shanahan will be able to change the status quo as it was left by former discipline head Colin Campbell, who was Shanahan’s predecessor. Shanahan must try to begin that process immediately.
The league cannot continue to pick and choose situations where rules apply. There is no consistency in the discipline, and no consistency in the officiating. It has to change. And it has to start today, April 16th, and remain strict and consistent for the remainder of the playoffs and going forward.
Jeremy Roenick said it once in 2004, and it sure as heck fits the situation right now as well: Wake up NHL. Wake up.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.