McQuaid incident shows how well the NHL now handles player discipline

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McQuaid incident shows how well the NHL now handles player discipline

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.

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while locking the name Urho Vaakenainen into my Microsoft World spellcheck.

 *The New Jersey Devils got a No. 1 overall pick that isn’t going to be a generational player, but he’s going to be one heck of a player.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has fired Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett indicating that he needed a change after a long run in the desert.

*The Edmonton Oilers cleared cap space by dealing Jordan Eberle and immediately filled it up with a four-year commitment to Kris Russell. Peter Chiarelli must make sure he doesn’t paint himself into a salary cap corner like he did in Boston with signings like this one. Word is that Connor McDavid is going to command a massive contract, and that could make contracts like the Russell one tough to manage in Edmonton.

*Old friend Claude Julien is only a spectator at the NHL Draft, but he’s already juggling the Habs roster in his mind as it goes through changes. Both Julien and Shawn Thornton came over to shoot the breeze with the Boston media on Friday night as the first round approached, and showed once again why both men are on the All-Class team.

*The Winnipeg Jets took a guy that I thought made a lot of sense for the Bruins, big Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen. He was available for the Bruins at the 18th pick when they opted to go defense instead.

*The Washington Capitals decided not to let winger TJ Oshie get to free agency, and locked him up with an eight-year contract.

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is in the middle of the storm right now as he blows up his team and begins to build it the way he wants to.

For something completely different: Everything you always wanted to know about Sammy Hagar but were afraid to ask.


 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.