Updated Apr 17, 2012 - 5:12 pm
Off the Ice: Shaw suspension shows deep flaws in NHL discipline
I'm not here to argue the Andrew Shaw suspension. He made contact with Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith's head. He took a dangerous line on a protected player. He had both time and space to alter his course or slow down to make a play on the puck; he did neither. Shaw deserved his three-game suspension.
But the Shaw Decision, as I've come to term it, is one of the only proper suspensions that has been doled out in the postseason thus far. The controversy that flew via Twitter on Tuesday did not focus on the hit, but the joke that is known at the NHL Office of Player Safety and its main man, Brendan Shanahan.
While suspensions and fines are already running rampant, few are accurate and there is zero consistency against hockey players coming out of the office that is in charge of one thing: protecting hockey players.
When Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber slammed Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass by physically grasping him and throwing him, he got a slap on the wrist and an incredibly small fine, albeit the maximum permitted by the league. In comparison, Ottawa Senators forward Zenon Konopka was fined the same amount as Weber for verbal abuse of a player. Something tells me having your face shoved into glass and your helmet broken hurts a lot more than a few hurtful words.
The main issue in Shaw's suspension was his targeting of the head and that Smith was a goaltender. If we just focus on the head-targeting and leave the receiving player's position aside, the NHL has been all over the place in the postseason with suspensions. From Vancouver's Byron Bitz getting two games, to New York Rangers' Carl Hagelin getting three and Weber's pittance, there has been zero consistency coming out of the disciplinary office, leading to sentiments that some teams and series are being preferred over others. That's not good.
The amount of time it took for Shanahan's office to pass down its verdict on Shaw was absurd. A 15-second play should not take almost 48 hours to analyze and produce a video review for, though it was well done. The NHL can't let the soon-to-be-suspended player get revved up for the game, take in the morning skate and then call him to let him know he'll be in the press box for the next few games. It's not fair to either team involved in the suspension, but it's especially unfair to the player himself. I have my suspicions that the NHL was waiting on injury news of Smith (a ridiculous factor to involve when deciding on a suspension) and may have been overrun with the discipline demanded in the Flyers-Penguins series, but that's just me.
In Shanahan's defense, he doesn't have an easy job. Media and fans alike have been thirsting for suspensions all season and attempting to determine the right call in each individual case is a timely process and can impact a season -- or playoff series -- greatly. But that's the nature of the beast.
Perhaps the NHL should instead seek to put together a panel of executives, doctors and former players to be headed by Shanahan that would perhaps be more balanced and less likely to consider the upcoming games as a whole. Hell, why not throw in a few journalists (I'm free on Saturdays)? Maybe this panel could use simple deciding factors, structured somewhat like is listed below.
Hit conducted with malicious intent - Player fined.
Hit makes contact with opposing player's head (unintentional) - Maximum fine.
Hit makes contact with opposing player's head (intentional) - One-game suspension.
Hit came from behind. - Two-game suspension.
Hit happened after puck left immediate area - Three-game suspension.
Hit happened after puck left immediate area (player can't change course) - Three-game suspension.
Hit happened after puck left immediate area (player can change course) - Four-game suspension.
And so on. Perhaps that council, using a scale similar to the one above, can then have all players begin at the bottom level and, for each repeat offense, they begin to move up the punishment ladder. For example, if a player receives a two-game suspension, they will be given, at a minimum, the maximum fine for their next offense, a one-game suspension for the following offense and so on.
I'm not saying the NHL office of Player Safety will ever be perfect, because no sports enforcement body is. Allegiances still affect decisions, the regular season and playoff scenarios affect decisions and pressure from league and team leaders affects decisions. However, with a semi-autonomous panel in place, maybe some of the complications from the disciplinary decisions can be smoothed out and not all the blame will rest on the now-infamous Shanaban.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "Off the Ice" is a portion of ArizonaSports.com where Carter Nacke will be covering and discussing the Phoenix Coyotes throughout the season. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him at @carternacke or follow the blog's twitter feed at @OfftheIce620. Thanks for reading.