No matter what sport or league is out there, suspensions are more than likely a part of them. It may have to do with cheating, betting or throwing a dangerous hit, but they are always going to a part of any game. And that’s fine. People and players alike are always going to put in their two cents on whether it was suspendable or not, and there’s always gray area, but most of the time they get it right.
More importantly, the league has a duty to set a precedent that some things just won’t be tolerated in a game. That isn’t the case with the NHL, however. They have missed countless extremely dangerous hits, yet are handing down suspensions for hits that are borderline at best.
The suspension is no longer something that punishes a player for delivering a dangerous hit, it’s become something that is so watered down and random, that it might be worth it for a dirty player to hit with the intent to injure, because suspensions seem to be handed down completely at random.
That isn’t OK or acceptable in the least, and there comes a point when the league needs to accept responsibility for their own actions, and that’s where the NHL is at right now.
Player Safety? Or Player Danger?
In case you missed it, on Tuesday afternoon, the NHL decided to hand down and three-game suspension to Flyers forward Brayden Schenn for a hit on TJ Oshie that didn’t even register as a hit on the gametracker.
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) April 26, 2016
The hit in question can be seen in the tweet above, and as you can see, I don’t even think Oshie was even phased by it. The NHL’s argument was for charging. However, Schenn hadn’t taken one stride from nearly the blue line in, he made contact with Oshie’s shoulder first, and maybe left his feet by an inch. That’s probably why the referee standing right there, gazing right at the whole play, didn’t even budge.
But as I mentioned above Schenn received three, yes three, games for that measly hit.
It’s not so much the suspension that should anger fans and players, it’s the league’s blatant disregard for hits that are 10 times worse.
Take this series as the prime example. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare boarded Dmitry Orlov in Game 3, Orlov put himself in somewhat of a vulnerable position, but fine, anyone could accept a one-game suspension for that, it was still dangerous. But by some logic on the NHL’s wheel of justice, that hit deserved less than something that could have maybe been a a minor penalty on Schenn? There’s no way.
So, maybe the NHL just messed that one up? Nope.
Because in Game 5, Jason Chimera decided to try to make Voracek one with the boards. If you were to take a look at the three hits I had mentioned so far side by side, I would say there would be no argument that this was by far the most dangerous and worthy of a suspension.
Unlike the Bellemare hit where the two players were tied up, Chimera had plenty of time to see Voracek going into the boards, he skated from a distance to hit him, and it was inexcusably dirty.
But by the NHL’s logic, it wasn’t as dangerous as any of the other hits, because there was no suspension, not even a hearing.
Intent to Injure
Of course, any discussion about the inconsistency of the Department of Player Safety wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Kris Letang’s attempt to decapitate Viktor Stalberg.
That slash happened in Game 3 between the Rangers and Penguins.
In all fairness, Letang wasn’t actually trying to decapitate Stalberg, but I’ve watched that video several times, and I can’t come up with any explanation of how that wasn’t intentional.
Stalberg didn’t run into Letang’s stick, the Penguins defenseman had to swing it around to hit him right in the mouth, he could have very easily avoided that.
Letang, like Chimera, did not receive any form of supplemental discipline, and people were in harsh opposition to this.
Very similar IMO. Simon received 30 games in 2007. You just can't turn a blind eye to it. pic.twitter.com/4T9SYBjevQ
— Stephen Valiquette (@VallysView) April 20, 2016
I can not believe we are watching Kris Letang play tonight after that slash. So mind boggling he wasn't given a game suspension.
— Ryan Whitney (@ryanwhitney6) April 21, 2016
If a lesser player than Kris Letang bounced his stick off someone's face, there would be a suspension. NHL justice always favours its stars.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) April 20, 2016
I found ex-goalie Steven Valiquette’s comments on the whole thing very interesting.
Chris Simon did nearly the same thing to Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers way back in 2007; he was given a whopping 30-game suspension for the two-hander to the chops. It makes you think, was it really that much different from what Letang did? No.
What is different thought, is the type of player they both are.
Simon largely held the role of an enforcer, accumulating nearly 2,000 penalty minutes over 782 games. He wasn’t someone people filled the
seats to see play. On the other hand, Letang is an integral part of the speed and finesse of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I’d be willing to bet the NHL would much rather see him on the ice than off.
The point to take from all of this, is that everyone is losing sense of what is suspendable and what is not, and that’s a dangerous precedent to set in a game as physical as hockey.
What if a guy like Radko Gudas had slashed Stalberg across the chops? Would it be different then?
Probably, but that’s the wrong way for the league to see things. The player at fault doesn’t have any effect on the severity or how dangerous the hit is.
Letang could have just as easily clipped an eye instead of a few teeth. Once again, then would it be different?
The NHL is failing miserably at setting a safe standard for their players, and suspeding Schenn for more games than all of the other players I mentioned is clear-cut evidence of that.
As a fan of the game, you can only hope that it doesn’t take a very serious injury to change that standard, but until then, we can only hope the league takes a good, hard look at the way they are using their powers. Because right now, it is not working.
Featured Image was provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.