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Parity amongst discipline?

The 2013 National Hockey League(NHL) post-season has been one of the most physical in recent memory. The parity of the league has resulted in closely matched teams where any impact in the game, be it minute or otherwise, can result in a game winning play or series wining scenario. Being the fastest non-motorized sport on earth, hockey plays happen fast. Athletes are notorious for playing with emotion; dreams of Lord Stanley’s receptacle dance in their head. It is natural that tempers will spill over on the ice.

That is when sheriff Brendan Shanahan steps in and draws his guns:

Brendan Shanahan
Brendan Shanahan with the NY Rangers (Photo by Troy Parla/Wikimedia Commons)

National Hockey League tries to maintain a temperate climate while officiating and delivering supplemental discipline. While it has long been the hallmark of hockey that penalties in the regular season and in the playoffs are worlds apart, the same can be said about suspensions. This is not an astute observation, I know.

The NHL disciplinary arm, the Department of Player Safety  has not been performing as advertised. There is a serious discrepancy with discipline charges… and it makes our league worse for it.

Enter the Ottawa-Montreal series.

The playoff series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators has been adhering to the preview trailers beautifully… it is action packed, full of drama and now the lawyers are getting involved.

Both teams play possession-style hockey and dominate the opposition with speed. Montreal is faster; Ottawa bigger.

Some of the hits in the series have been downright vicious: Eric Gryba on Lars Eller resulted in a game misconduct, a 5 minute major, and a two game suspension. Lars Eller received a broken nose, facial contusions and a possible concussion. Video of the hit here:

The referee on the play, Dan O’Rourke, will not be on Senator fans’ Christmas cards list this year, for several reasons. However, he did make the correct call at the time of the play.

With Eric Gryba suspended two games, the NHL sent notice to teams around the league. A two game suspension in the playoffs is a severe penalty… roughly equated to a 10 game suspension during the regular season plus or minus a game or two. Many argue that two games is a bit much for what many hockey experts and analysis stated on record was a clean hockey hit… a hockey play gone bad. But…. the suspension was delivered and a new precedent was set.

The problem with it… is this type of hit has been in hockey for decades. Scott Stevens earned a living making that play and punishing players breaking down the middle of the ice.

It is with this reason that this suspension rubbed many Ottawa Senator fans the wrong way. If you are punishing the result on an otherwise clean hockey play, what about Matt Cooke’s slice of Erik Karlsson’s achilles tendon?

My question to you, sports fan,  is Boston Andrew Ferences’s elbow to the head of Mikhail Grabovski worse than Eric Gryba’s hit on Lars Eller?

The intent to injure on the Ference ‘check’ (Playing fast and loose with the definition of check there…) looks much more substantive, yet both Gryba and Ference were suspended for those hits and Gryba(!) got the extra game despite the track record of Ference.

Fast forwarding to game three in the Ottawa-Montreal series, a powder-keg exploded and sent ugly all up in Scotiabank Place.

Halfway through the third the game erupted when Ryan White two-hand slashed Zack Smith in retaliation for his shove off of the faceoff… this is when the game went to hell in a hand basket.

Just look at the penalty sheet for the game!

Both teams knew going into this game that it was going to be physical and push the envelope of the rules. Many times during the game it bordered on illegal play. Fans of both teams were upset at non-calls on the ice… but nothing compares to Rene Bourque’s blatant elbow to the head of Cory Conacher:

Prust’s best reenactment:

Both are similar to Ference’s hit… precedent has been set, right?

Well… let’s review here. We have elbows to the head? Check. Penalties called on the play? Yes. So the is NHL going to review the headshots? Yes.. er, no.


Double standard?

Not quite. The league did not think that this was worthy of anything either:

Which, frankly, is a lot more vicious. I am a huge proponent of Dustin Brown… I love the way he plays the game (most times), but an attempted knee-on-knee AND an elbow to the head is a disaster and PR nightmare that the league wants to avoid.

A theme seen throughout this post-season is the unwillingness of the NHL to suspend a player for intention. The lack of supplemental discipline charges in the Montreal-Ottawa game fit with the current modus operandi of the NHL… but it does not make sense.

If Cory Conacher ended up like Lars Eller did in game one, the NHL would review the play.

This needs to change before vigilante justice becomes the true standard by which our beloved league policed.

What we are seeing right now is bush league hockey, and the NHL is not better for it.