Mike from A-Town: No consistency from NHL's Shanahan

Mike from A-Town: No consistency from NHL's Shanahan
May 6, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Your Boston Bruins aren’t the only one in the NHL with a consistency problem.

This weekend, Brendan Shanahan and the NHL’s department of player safety proved to be as sane and predictable as a Gary Busey.  One day, Shanny is fabricating infractions to suspend a player for a legal hit, kowtowing to the whims of fans and media that get upset when you mention Zamboni’s don’t have seatbelts and airbags.  The next day he’s enforcing the rule book with a sensible logic that one would expect from a former player of his stature.  

But when he turns a blind eye to the kind of goonery that spawned the existence of rule 48, because the victims didn’t end up on an episode of CSI Ottawa, you have to ask what is the Department of Player Safety? The NHL’s judicial branch that uniformly enforces the rulebook, or a subdivision of the league’s PR department using snazzy production values to placate public outcry.  

Let’s start by looking at the incident that even ESPN felt the need to cover. Eric Gryba’s hit on Lars Eller. A terrible pass from Raphael Diaz to an unprepared Eller lead to the total obliteration of the Habs forward care of a crushing Gryba hit.  The results of the hit for Eller are unfortunate. The results for Gryba were a travesty.  

Here are the facts: Gryba hit a player with the puck without leaving his feet, raising an elbow, targeting the head or making it the principle point of contact.  Due to the speed of the hit, the on ice officials made an understandable, but incorrect call and gave Gryba a five minute major for interference and a game misconduct.  For an NHL a playoff game, that miscarriage of justice alone is worthy of a novelization by John Grisham.  To compound the mistake by suspending Gryba for two games is a ludicrous as a Joey Crawford technical.  And even the NBA has the common sense to rescind those.

Shanahan justifying the suspension by calling it a check to the head and reckless was simply fabricating evidence to convict Gryba because the aftermath of the hit was bloody and injurious.  As the Hockey New’s resident pacifist Adam Proteau pointed out on his twitter account: that the “Optics” of the hit’s results matter.  

No Adam, the “optics” shouldn’t matter.  This wasn’t like the filthy Chris Chelios elbow that sent Brian Propp into a crimson soaked dreamland in the 1989 postseason.  This was a legal hit that the emotionally dainty and those draped in bleu blanc et rouge went berserk over.  When enforcing the rules of a game, or the laws of the land, “optics” and “outrage” should NEVER trump the facts.  If the optics really mattered in the NHL, the New Jersey Devils would have never won a cup and Jaques Lemaire would still be waiting for parole eligibility for devising the neutral zone trap.

The insanity of Shanahan’s ruling was further highlighted just days later.  He suspended the Red Wings Justin Abdelkader two games for a charging, leaping headshot that injured the Ducks Toni Lydman.  This hit was everything that Gryba’s hit wasn’t: a player leaving his feet to deliver a legitimately reckless headshot.  So why were the suspensions identical? Primarily because Lydman’s injury didn’t require the NHL to edit the blood out of their highlight package like they did to Gryba’s.  When a demonstrably legal hit is penalized identically to a criminal one, the Department of Player Safety has serious legitimacy issues to answer for.

And when a deliberately dirty play, committed away from the flow of the game, is passed over for discipline, their very existence comes into question.  

Today the Department of Player Safety announced that the unpenalized elbow by Montreal’s Rene Bourque on Ottawa’s Cory Conacher would not be subject to supplemental discipline.  So a cheap shot by a repeat offender a neutral zone away from the puck is not worthy of supplemental discipline, but Andrew Ference just sat a game for a marginal elbow during a puck battle? Is Shanahan on the NHL payroll or the WWE’s?  It really is stupefying to try and figure out.  Conacher not being injured by a deliberate attempt to injure should have no bearing on whether or not a repeat offender like Bourque is suspended.  The act alone should have been enough to give Bourque a two-game time out.  I would hate to think that the Montreal Canadiens hold any sway over Shanahan’s decisions but considering the two logic defying rulings in the past 3 days have favored the Habs, it becomes a legitimate question.

When a franchise and fan base as perpetually hysterical as Montreal’s, and the breathless soccer moms in the media interfere with the correct interpretation of the rules, you have lost all credibility.  Which is a damn shame because if anyone should have some “street cred” in a disciplinarian’s role, it’s Shanahan.  This is a player who not only is a Hall of Fame power forward, he also is the career leader in Gordie Howe hat tricks.  It was his flying cross body block of Patrick Roy that allowed the Red Wings to settle the score with Claude Lemieux and made the March 26th celebration known as Darren McCarty Day a reality.  Shanahan should know the difference between a dangerous play and clean one with unfortunate results. But now it seems that he’s let his judgment be influenced by the hue and cry of the squeamish and the historically entitled.

Before Shanahan, Hockey fans complained that there was little or no justice in the way the NHL handed out discipline. In Shanny’s second season, despite unparalleled transparency and oversight,  hockey fans find themselves saying the same thing.

That’s not the kind of consistency we were looking for.