OTTAWA The NHLs Player Safety Department has been on a roll this season, and its pretty easy to see why.
Where once the NHL decision-making in the realm of supplemental discipline was viewed as arbitrary at best and patently unfair at worst, the NHL has gained utter and complete transparency in all of those troublesome gray areas.
Brendan Shanahan and the player safety crew arrive at the table armed with explanations, logic and detailed breakdowns of plays that fall on the right and wrong side of suspensions and its made all of the difference.
The perfect example was the Adam McQuaid kneeing penalty on Nick Foligno from Wednesday night in Ottawa.
It featured an extremely clean, honest player (McQuaid) making a split-second decision to impede Foligno with his left leg when it appeared the Ottawa forward was about to burst by him for an offensive rush in a one-goal game.
Foligno went down to the ice and the initial replays looked pretty nasty. The on-ice officials took complete control of the incident and acted with some swift justice. They slapped McQuaid with a five-minute major and a game misconduct that left Boston shorthanded in the third period, and had Shanahan satisfied that a proper punishment had already been levied.
What Shanahan and Co. have done is a remarkable job getting into the minds of the players on the ice, and figuring out what the motives are behind the actions. Its a difficult challenge perhaps made easier with somebody like Shanahan, a recent player who still has his finger on the pulse of the game.
It was clear there was no premeditated decision to leg-whip Foligno, and instead McQuaid flashed his leg out at the last minute as a desperate resort to slow down the offensive player.
The league correctly deduced it was a reactionary play rather than some sinister attempt to injure by yet another hatchet man just looking to push boundaries before getting slapped back into good behavior.
I would have been personally disappointed to see a suspension. It wasnt done purposefully and there was no injury on the play, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. At one point we need to let players play. If we get too hard then players will stop playing and be afraid to do things. A fine is a fine, and I guess you live with that.
From the outside we dont always take time to look at all of the things they have to look at before making their decisions. Its not an easy job. I sincerely have tremendous respect for people doing that job. Its not an easy job and its not a popular one. I will always respect the decision whether I agree with it or not.
Also, and importantly, Foligno wasnt injured on the play and finished out the game. In a utopian hockey society, perhaps, supplemental discipline is handed down without consideration for the severity of an injury, but thats just not practical or realistic when it comes to keeping the hockey peace.
Kevin Porter had a similar kneeing incident with Vancouvers David Booth, and Porter was given a four-game suspension when Booth suffered an injury thats knocked him out for a month. A review of the play also showed Porter had thrown his leg in the way well before contact with Booth, and smacked much more of intent than reactionary play.
So the message comes across clear to players: Play on the edge and hurt somebody seriously and youll lose some valuable game checks.
Its the best deterrent to some of the abhorrent behavior that gets displayed in NHL games, and its the sharpest weapon in Shanahans arsenal. Its up to the NHL executive to decide when to wield that punitive power, and Shanahan has been brilliantly consistent with picking his spots and then explaining it blow-by-blow on video. The overwhelming video breakdown of evidence against Edmonton defenseman Andy Sutton before his recent suspension was an ode to being a repeat offender, and lets everyone know that the NHL is always watching.
McQuaid said its his goal to never get suspended in his NHL career, and that should be music to the ears of Shanahan and the rest of the NHLs Sheriff Department. Those are the kinds of physical, honest player that the league should want to keep playing with toughness and intensity, and avoid discouraging at all costs.
I was happy the league saw it the way it happened, said McQuaid. There wasnt any intent to injure. It was a reaction and a bad decision on my part. Now I can move past it and hopefully never hear about it again. Happy there was no injury and now I pay my fine and we move on.
Its such a fast game and things happen quickly. Sometimes there are tough decisions to be made, but with in-depth explanations you can understand where everyone is coming from and why decisions are made the way they are.
The 2,500 fine for McQuaid and the scare of a possible suspension become an effective reminder for the Bs defenseman that its vitally important to respect his fellow players and avoid moving too far off the edge. McQuaid has experienced the negative attention that one borderline play can bring to him as a player, and thats something hes not interested in reliving anytime soon.
You never want to have a suspension on your record for anything. It was a bad decision, but I knew I wasnt trying to make a dirty play, said McQuaid. I was just hoping the league would see it that way. Hopefully I wont be in that situation again.
The league makes the dead proper call and a player learns their lesson without getting Shanabanned. All is right in the NHL world until the next high profile incident that demands Shanahans attention and fury from his corner office in New York City.