It wasn’t too long ago I wrote about Brendan Shanahan’s position as Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations, and how he was fairing. Controversy has begun to swirl around the NHL community after Shanahan’s decision to not suspend Rick Nash came down Friday evening.
Not only was Nash not suspended for a hit on Tomas Kopecky that looked questionable in real time, and some would argue worse in slow motion, but the explanation given for no supplementary discipline was bogus.
Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog summed up Shanahan’s phone interview explaining his reasoning to let Nash off the hook.”We don’t suspend for leaving your feet. We suspend for leaving your feet and hitting a guy in the head violently,” Shanahan said. Greg Wyshynski writes “It wasn’t a hit the League felt should have been delivered, and told Nash as much. But the NHL felt there wasn’t enough contact with the head to warrant a suspension nor did it rise to the level of “predatory” hits that only make some contact with the head.” So since he wasn’t head hunting, he gets off without suspension because he didn’t mean to do it?
It is clear that Nash does make contact with the back of Kopecky’s head at one point during the hit with his arms. How else would his helmet fly off? I don’t buy the whiplash excuse for a minute. Kopecky wears a visor which makes it harder for a helmet to just flip off. Players helmets are also fitted to their heads for protection against hits and pucks, the helmet should not have come off the way it did because of whiplash.
Watching the hit many times over, it is clear Nash wasn’t head hunting. He wasn’t trying to hurt Kopecky, but there was definite contact with the head, and this is a problem the NHL isn’t seeing when they rewatch the footage. Kopecky was in an awkward position, preparing to take a shot in the slot. When Nash skated over as literally the last line of defense, Kopecky bent down further as Nash went in for a body check, and bailed at the last minute. It is obvious Nash started to pull up, but he didn’t entirely. When Nash’s arms met the back of Kopecky, he used his shoulders as a pummel horse and vaulted over him. He tried to get out of the way, yes. But he still took the opportunity to hit him instead of completely bailing.
Case 2: Joffrey Lupul vs Victor Hedman. This hit was intentional – pretty much everyone said 2 games for that hit and they were right. Even Lupul admitted he thought he would get one game for the hit. It was a late hit, he left his feet, and the principal point of contact was to the head. Suspended. Law and Order justice sound.
So when the Nash hit happened, the consensus would be a suspension of at least two games because of the way it looked. It ultimately looked worse than the hit Hedman took from Lupul. The guys from The Backhand Shelf Podcast each said the hit was no good. Scott Lewis mentioned; “Initially when I looked at it without slow-motion or anything I thought it looked like Nash was trying to get out of the way and unfortunately the back of Kopecky’s head took the brunt of the blow. But then I watched another angle, really slowed it down, and it was malicious.” The more the video is reviewed the worse it looks in terms of trying to avoid contact, but deciding to make contact anyway.
The consensus? Because Lupul was suspended for a similar hit to the head, although much later than Nash’s, he should be suspended. John Noon said it best; “He has to get games for that because you have to establish a baseline of discipline for hits to the head.” Many agree that Nash’s hit was to the head of Kopecky. Shanahan outright denies this fact, and uses it for the basis of his explanation against suspending Nash.
Alex Edler was just suspended 2 games for his hit on Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. The principal point of contact was to Smith’s chest, he did not leave his feet (But that doesn’t matter to Shanahan as mentioned above), and he did not go out of his way to make this hit. These seem like a lot of the same factors that went into deciding Nash’s destiny. But Nash did get Kopecky’s head, and he did leave his feet…Whatever. I’m so confused.
As is Joffrey Lupul, who deservedly became frustrated with the fact that he was suspended two games for a hit that didn’t look half as bad as Nash’s, and Nash got off without a hearing. It is suggested that Shanahan would skip a suspension for Nash because of ties to the New York Rangers when he was playing. Well, I consider that theory to be absolutely ludicrous. Taking this job meant he might have to suspend guys from all 30 teams, not 29. He played the longest in Detroit, does that mean they get a free pass too? Absolutely not. Why then did Nash skirt a suspension? Because he’s Rick Nash.
If someone can explain the decisions on what warrants a suspension and what doesn't, please let me and the rest of guys know..
— Joffrey Lupul (@JLupul) March 22, 2013
The Raffi Torres saga with the long suspension – deservedly so- and then Bettman sticking his nose into it reducing the suspension must have irked Shanahan. To not suspend a player for such a controversial play is the equivalent of saying “I’m not doin’ it. I’m not touching this one.” If Gary Bettman is breathing down Shanahan’s neck and he’s already made it known he will go over his head and change suspensions, why would Shanahan suspend Nash if he knew Bettman would either reverse the suspension or not allow it to go through at all? It is a real possibility that Shanahan has made up these excuses including, the head wasn’t targeted or touched, and we don’t care if the player leaves his feet, to mask the fact that Bettman wanted his Rick Nash to keep playing. I get it, superstars bring in money, kids and fans come to see them play. But when you’re putting other players at risk for not punishing a dirty and reckless hit, you are creating problems instead of fixing them.
The players themselves are confused as to what a hit warrants in terms of penalties, suspensions, and fines. Joffrey Lupul accepted his supplementary discipline, and the next day was baffled at a hit similar to his that went unpunished. I don’t blame him. There needs to be a very thick neon coloured line that lets the players know what they can and can’t do. The line right now is invisible in terms of discipline. Sometimes you’ll get a 2 minute minor, sometimes you’ll be fined, sometimes you’ll be suspended. Spin the wheel and find out.
Without a concrete understanding of what is acceptable, and I’m pretty sure guys already know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, the squawking from players isn’t going to stop. If Sidney Crosby makes contact with Jeff Skinner’s head during a hit, he should be suspended. If Jeff Skinner makes contact with Sidney Crosby’s head, he should be suspended. The name, the salary, and the history should not matter. If you did it, you’re guilty. This is what you get, thanks for coming out, and I better not see you in my office again.
Katie Flynn is a News Editor at theScore and theScore App as well as an NHL Analyst for H4TV Sports News.