You let one indiscretion go, and who knows how things progress?
Well on Saturday night, the NHL got a taste of life in a league where Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber’s head slam earlier in the week was deemed a meaningless minor penalty, and it was unsurprisingly a head shot and fight filled affair.
Among the casualties was Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, whose noggin was picked off by the elbow of New York Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin midway through the game.
That wasn’t the only elbow to the head of the night, either, as in St. Louis, San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns threw one off the back of the head/neck of Blues checker Scott Nichol and got two minutes for his trouble.
Then there was this hit on Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith, which at least came with a game misconduct for the perp – the only one of these incidents met with that stiff an in-game punishment – and another elbow from Sens defenceman Chris Phillips.
That’s not even the full extent of the night’s festivities, which in New York and St. Louis were probably as fight filled as we’ve seen from these four teams all year.
(San Jose, a team that went shorthanded the fewest times during the season, racked up 64 penalty minutes in their brawl with the Blues.)
And we’re only at Game 2.
So much for Brendan Shanahan’s crackdown.
It seems all but impossible that Hagelin won’t be suspended given Alfredsson’s injury, but if it’s simply a one- or two-game wrist slap, it hardly sends the message that this type of hit won’t be tolerated in these playoffs.
With the Weber decision, it was clear that Shanahan and Co. were wary of affecting the outcome of these series by intervening with a ban, but after only four days of hockey, there’s obviously a growing concern here.
Games are getting out of control, sometimes from the opening faceoff, and players are getting hurt, which given how entertaining a lot of the hockey has been, is a shame.
Meanwhile, all of the optimism that came with Shanahan’s suspension- and fine-filled early portion of the season is now gone – replaced for many fans by the same weary contempt for NHL discipline that festered for years under Colin Campbell.
If players were supposed to learn from the five games Andy Sutton got for elbowing in October, or the five games Rene Bourque received in January, or any of the many other so-called Shana-bans, it hasn’t worked – and especially not when all those suspensions went from 28 in the first three and a half months of the season to just two in February and five in March.
(This while one of the best teams in the league in Vancouver is missing one of its top players in Daniel Sedin after an elbow to the face late in the year. The Canucks are now nearing early elimination at least in part because of his absence while Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith’s five-game suspension is long since served.)
While the narrative at last month’s GM meetings in Florida from all involved was that players have adjusted and therefore Shanahan could afford to back off as much as he did, with the intensity ramped up in these games, it’s obvious that adjustment (to the extent it existed) was only temporary.
Now is the time for the NHL to really step up, take a stand and stop worrying about how their actions are going to take key players out of the lineup in playoff games.
That’s exactly the kind of deterrent needed – and one that obviously didn’t exist in the minds of players on Saturday night.