On the opening night of the NHL playoffs, there have already been a couple of fantastic games for fans to consume as NBC makes every game available nationally for the first time. You had the Philadelphia Flyers coming back from a 3-0 deficit to down the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime, and the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings put some extra sizzle into their Central Division rivalry by playing a physically-demanding game. The Preds ending up coming out on top 3-2, but it was an action at the end of the game that really grabbed people’s attention.
In the last five seconds of the game, there was a face-off in the Nashville end with Detroit trying to scramble to score the tying goal. After the face-off ended up in the corner, the puck ended up near Henrik Zetterberg and Shea Weber, and what happened next was not just surprising; it was downright appalling:
You have to skip to the later part of the video to really see what happened in slow motion, but what happened was pretty blatant: Weber attempted to slam Zetterberg into the boards once, and then when he was unsuccessful he grabbed the back of Henrik’s head and put him face-first into the wall. A penalty was called on the play despite the horn having gone off, and Zetterberg did leave the ice under his own power, but the reaction around the hockey punditverse was quick and severe.
Obviously, Red Wings fans were irate with the play, and even neutral observers were very surprised that Weber had gone all WWE on Zetterberg’s head. The real question now, especially with the playoffs having just gotten started, is whether or not head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan will be willing to suspend Nashville’s captain for his actions.
There are a couple of key components that Shanahan is going to need to look at before issuing his decision on this one. The first component is that right before the play, Zetterberg put a pretty good cross-check into Weber’s back. It likely should have been a penalty, but it wasn’t called, and play continued on. It wasn’t the only hard shot that Weber and the Predators took over the course of the evening, so maybe it was just a combination of all of them that set Weber off.
The other key component that Shanahan will take into account will be the blatant “intent to injure” that Weber displayed. If he had just given Zetterberg a shot in the back with his stick into the boards, the result likely wouldn’t have been as bad. They were close enough to the boards that even with a full follow through Zetterberg likely would have just been slightly dazed, but unfortunately for Nashville and Weber, that’s not the way that he went about doing it.
The biggest issue there is that Weber tried once to put Z’s head into the glass, but then he grabbed him again, and with all of the intent in the world, slammed Henrik’s noggin into the glass like Hulk Hogan would have done to Sting if they were at the corner turnbuckle in a wrestling match. All of the frustration in the world can be coursing through your veins, but there is no way that Weber would be able to argue that there was anything other than ill-intent in what he did at the end of the game to Zetterberg.
Even with the excuse that he was fed up with being shoved around and had just taken a solid cross-check, Shanahan needs to send a message that this kind of negligent and stupid behavior will not be tolerated, and Weber needs to be suspended for three games. Yes, it’s the playoffs and there is a degree of leniency because of that, but when you have a player who theoretically could have broken another player’s neck with his foolish actions, you have to send a message, and Weber deserves to have the book thrown at him.
Hockey is an inherently violent game, and you are never going to make it to where no one will ever be injured on a hit or by a flying puck or in any other way. What you can do, and what Shanahan must do, is to say that a blatant disregard for another player’s safety is unacceptable, and to express that frustration in a way that isn’t within the confines of the game action itself cannot be tolerated.
Therefore, he needs to issue Weber a suspension that isn’t just a slap on the wrist, but rather a warning to everyone else in the league: even in the heat of the playoff cauldron, you have to be able to keep your emotions in check. If you are unable to do that, as Weber was unable to tonight, then you will pay a big price, and so will your team.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.