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(Darren Calabrese)
(Darren Calabrese)

Brendan Shanahan dropped the ball on Malone hit Add to ...

Jeez, and it all started so promisingly.

Brendan Shanahan took bold stands, and took them often, sure there were some conspicuous dropped balls, but the message was heard loud and clear.

He was making a name and getting good press - it’s a new world order, the hockey pundits all agreed.

Notice the past tense?

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Shanahan's fine preseason work - the videos, the detailed explanations - is in danger of going down the swannie with the decision to not punish Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone, who had spent much of the night looking for trouble to get into, for crunching Chris Campoli of the Canadiens in the head on Saturday night.

The bold new era may not even make it to opening day, although it was probably unreasonable to think it would last. And that's a shame, it's no time to let up just because the regular season is nigh.

Anyhow, to the facts:

Yes, Campoli could have kept his head up as he rounded the net - he was leaning forward to corral a puck that was getting away from him.

No, Malone didn’t take a long run at Campoli.

But he unquestionably left his feet as he hit him, and Campoli’s head was unmistakably the principal point of contact.

Yet Shanahan, the guy who rightly concluded that recklessness amounts to the same thing as intent not 48 hours ago (in NHL v. MacArthur), and who gave Buffalo’s Brad Boyes two games for hitting the Leafs’ Joe Colborne under semi-analogous circumstances, decided to give Malone a free pass.

“In the end, we felt that Malone had committed to the hit when Campoli was upright. However, when the contact was made, Campoli's head position significantly changed just prior to the hit,” Shanahan said in a statement released by the league. “There are elements about the hit that we don’t like – specifically, the principal point of contact being the head and that it was not a full-body check. But the overriding factor in our judgment was that Campoli’s loss of the puck and subsequent bending forward for it just prior contributed significantly, if not entirely, to those elements.”

Notice that Shanahan, who called the incident “the most difficult to date” to rule on, makes no mention of the fact Malone jumped into the hit. Note also that the onus has once again subtly been shifted back to the hittee rather than the hitter.

It’s up to Campoli, who is fishing for the puck with a fore-checker on his back, to anticipate, stand and accept the contact?

Sorry, no sale.

Maybe it’s because Malone, a big amiable lummox who qualifies as Not That Kind Of Player, held up his hand after the hit as if to say ‘oopsie, my bad’.

Perhaps it’s because Josh Gorges leapt to his teammate’s defence and repeatedly brutalized Malone’s right fist with his forehead.

So the new rules are clear, until they’re not.

Yes, hockey is played fast, yes, there are grey areas in all these cases - but no, it doesn’t have to be this complicated.

And perhaps this is merely a case of Shanahan over-thinking and over-analyzing.

His defenders will argue it's patently unfair to rip him on the basis of one no-decision.

Given the whining and gnashing of teeth by GMs and players over Shanahan's early activism, perhaps there are also external forces at work.

And he is to be commended for breaking with past practice and explaining his decision.

Fair enough.

But players have been told that you have to fully commit to a hit, no more taking a piece or chipping a guy as he goes past, and hitting the head is verboten.

Campoli, who was on the ice with the Habs at their retreat in Collingwood on Monday, said he is peeved that there was no suspension.

His teammates are scratching their heads.

They’re not the only ones.

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