You’ve seen the play by now. In the dying seconds of game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings, Predators captain Shea Weber grabs a hold of Red Wing forward Henrik Zetterberg’s head, slamming him face first into the glass. Zetterberg slouched to the ice after the abrupt jarring. The men in zebra stripes, who apparently waited until the game was over to begin doing their jobs correctly, rushed in to stop the situation from escalating further. Weber was assessed a minor penalty for roughing on the play, a mere technicality as the call was made at the game’s conclusion.
The incident ignited an uproar. Red Wing fans calling for a suspension, Predators fans dismissing the play as “sending a message,” and hockey fans agreeing on the classless nature of “Smashville’s” captain’s actions. Analysts disagreed on the severity of the incident. Some denouncing the play as ruthless, others claiming it was much adieu about nothing.
In the end the NHL decided reality was somewhere in the middle, announcing Weber had been fined $2,500 for his actions. Effectively no punishment for a player making $7,500,000 a year.
The decision is an inexcusable misstep by the league.
Had this incident occurred earlier in the game, a major penalty, game misconduct, and fine likely would have sufficed. But it is the timing of the “play” that makes it blatantly worthy of a suspension.
NHL rule #46.12 states:
A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, and a game misconduct penalty, subject to the conditions outlined in 46.22.
Rule #46.22 goes on to say:
A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime (see 46.12) shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident.
The message is clear. Start a fight in order to send a message, and a message will be sent to you. But there was no fight, you say? It shouldn’t matter, I say.
Weber was clearly the instigator of an altercation in the final 5 minutes of regulation. Does he escape punishment simply because Zetterberg or his teammates didn’t retaliate? Does he go scot-free because the referees broke the situation up before it could escalate to that point?
And even if the incident doesn’t fall within those rules, it almost certainly falls within others. The NHL hasn’t been short-winded about its desire to eliminate headshots and plays that intend to injure from the game this season. What falls more perfectly under those categories than a player grabbing another by the back of the head and slamming him into the boards? If that’s not intent to injure by the method of headshot, I don’t know what is.
Yet the NHL has essentially deemed Weber’s play clean. They’ve chosen to let it go unpunished in any form other than a small monetary penalty. Like the recent Ryane Clowe debacle, he will simply get away with his actions suffering no real consequences.
The failure to adequately punish Weber deems his actions acceptable. Players are now free to take cheap shots at others in the dying seconds of a game they’ve already won and know that only their pocketbooks will be pained. It is okay to ruthlessly attack your opponent, for you will only be assessed a minor penalty that will never be served, and be forced to pay a small sum of money.
If the NHL wants to eliminate unnecessary and unsportsmanlike plays from the game, incidents like this cannot go unpunished. Today it seems that the NHL would enjoy more dangerous plays that could potentially injure its best players taking place in the finals minutes of the game.
The only word of comfort the NHL offered Red Wings fans was this:
“This play and the fine that addressed it will be significant factors in assessing any incidents involving Shea Weber throughout the remainder of the playoffs.”
Considering Weber was already fined once during the regular season, I’d say he’s on a pretty short leash.