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(Darren Calabrese)
(Darren Calabrese)

The NHL's absence of logic Add to ...

A reasonable assumption is that NHL executives must sit around their favourite saloon in their off-hours playing What-If.

As in what if we gave Steve Downie and Chris Kunitz one-game suspensions for blatant attempts to injure an opponent? Woo-hoo, boys, then it'll be fun to sit back and watch the critics blow gaskets.

How else to explain the absence of logic in NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell's decision to sit Downie and Kunitz for one playoff game each for their attacks on opponents?

On Monday, I reluctantly agreed with Campbell's decision not to punish Vancouver Canucks forward Raffi Torres for blasting Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook behind the net. Since the puck was there, Torres was gliding toward Seabrook rather than charging and Seabrook mostly made it a blindside hit by having his head down. He was looking at the puck, not Torres, who took the latitude the NHL gives him and lowered the boom.

But you cannot reach the same conclusion with either Downie, a Tampa Bay Lightning ruffian who is, as they say, known to police, or Kunitz, a Pittsburgh Penguins forward who has yet to achieve the notoriety of his suspended teammate Matt Cooke. Both players clearly tried to injure the players they hit.

On Monday night, Downie charged at Penguins defenceman Ben Lovejoy and leaped at him to deliver a shot to the head. This, like Torres hit, happened behind the net, which the NHL declared an open zone for predators, but that is where the similarity ends.

I am not a physics expert, so I cannot tell you if jumping into the air to hit someone increases the force of the collision. But that is not what matters. What matters is intent and leaving your feet to deliver a shot is clearly an intention to hurt your target.

Later in the same game, Kunitz swung his elbow and delivered a smash to the noggin of Lightning winger Simon Gagne. This, too, is clearly an attempt to injure. No one can argue an elbow smash is a clean hit.

All either player was going to receive from the referees was a minor penalty (Downie's was negated because the Penguins scored on the delayed call). But both should have been subject to rule 21.1 which calls for a match penalty. The NHL rulebook says a match penalty "shall be imposed on any player who deliberately attempts to injure or who deliberately injures an opponent in any manner." A match penalty also results in an automatic suspension until the NHL commissioner rules on the incident.

But after Tuesday's hearing, all the culprits got was a one-game suspension each. Elsewhere on this blog colleague James Mirtle points out Downie's hit on Lovejoy was practically the same as the one he made on Dean McAmmond four years ago, which brought a 20-game suspension.

No wonder the players' respect for each other seems to be dropping as fast as the victims.

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