By Joe Haggerty
TORONTO Perhaps the balance has now been paid in full by the NHL after a week of Bruins-related fines, suspensions and assorted supplemental discipline goodies.
The league has been under fire by crazed Montreal fanatics, Air Canada executives and even the Canadian Prime Minister among others since Zdeno Chara escaped official vilification for his collision with Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre two weeks ago.
The hockey play hit aside from being your garden variety interference call resulted in nary a suspension or fine for Chara a decision aided by his record of clean living within the NHL for the past 13 seasons.
That courageous, principled decision led to a firestorm of criticism and a ridiculously simplistic role for Chara as the NHLs version of Frankensteins Monster terrorizing the hockey hillside while abusing smaller, weaker hockey players.
Its actually pretty easy to imagine the more imbalanced Habs fans grabbing pitchforks and torches to chase around the 6-foot-9 defenseman after they burned police cruisers in the streets three years when the No. 1 seed Habs took down the No. 8 seed Bruins in a first round playoff series.
The NHLs Hockey Operations people seem to have responded to the criticism in the way only they can in the handful of games since the CharaPacioretty unfurled on the ice.
The league has called a lopsided ratio of penalties against Boston (20 power plays for the Bs opponents and only 11 for the Black and Gold) in the last four games since Chara and the Big Bad Bruins did the deed that evening in Montreal.
The NHL has also seemingly gone above and beyond their customary methods to show theres no favoritism toward the Boston franchise or from Colin Campbell toward the team his son skates for.
One wouldnt think the NHL feels the need to prove a guy like Jumbo Joe Thornton not to be confused with one of the great hockey MENSA candidates of our times wrong after he expressed an opinion that the league has always favored the Bruins.
After all Thornton cited a Milan Lucic cross-check in the playoffs two seasons ago that the Bs power forward was actually suspended for when referencing some fictitious double-standard in favor of Boston.
Jumbo was never one to let the actual facts get in the way of one of his half-baked philosophies, but Thorntons conspiracy theory does speak to a whispered perception around the league when it comes to the Bruins.
The NHL appears to have gone out of their way to strike at the Bs and show a little tough love when ruling on a pair of incidents in back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.
Brad Marchand clocked R.J. Umberger in the back of the head with a blindside elbow earlier this week that momentarily dropped the Blue Jackets forward, and caused a minor skirmish in its aftermath.
No penalty was called at the time, Umberger walked away from the incident and he actually took a dastardly run at Rich Peverley on his very next shift on the ice for the Jackets.
For that the 22-year-old Marchand was slapped with a two-game suspension and over 6,000 in lost game checks, and the pesky Bs forward gamely accepted his punishment like a man. There was no crying about injustice or where he intended to hit Umberger, or where his elbow made contact.
Marchand simply served the time after doing the crime.
But this is where things get a little dicey.
The Bs were involved in another elbowing incident Thursday night in their overtime loss to the Preds.
Patric Hornqvist charged in on Tyler Seguin during the closing minutes of the first period and smashed his pointed elbow into the side of Seguins head as he finished his check. Seguin had little time to protect himself after flipping the puck away, and took the full brunt of impact behind his ear.
Hornqvist drove his elbow into Seguins head with such force that he ripped apart the bottom of the Bs rookies left ear lobe an injury that required seven stitches to simply put things back together again for Seguin.
The rookies gruesome ear looked like a Mike Tyson chew toy for the better part of three periods, but Seguin somehow avoided a concussion-type injury on the play.Predators coach Barry Trotz gave some mealy-mouthed explanation that Hornqvist kept his elbow in on the hit following the game, but numerous replays along with Seguins cauliflower ear seemed to indicate the exact opposite happened.
It was expected Hornqvist would get some kind of suspension similar to what awaited Marchand and Dany Heatley each of the last two days: a two-game suspension and a warning flare throughout the league that head shots were going to be closely scrutinized.
For reasons that NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy hasnt made abundantly clear, the NHL opted to simply slap Hornqvist with a light 2,500 fine and a warning not to do it again.
Thats all well and good if the league is trying to breed uncertainly and confusion about head shots.
But this situation seemed tailor-made for supplementary discipline and will instead fuel speculation this whole week has been a weak NHL effort to make up for something people feel they missed with Chara and Pacioretty. Given the makeup mentality that the league has long practiced -- and the downright head-scratching manner they mete out justice -- it's a legitimate question to be asked.
The NHL continues to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to making a clear and present stand against head shots and did it again by giving the kid gloves treatment to Hornqvist.
It was an elbow to the head meant to send a message after Seguin scored an early goal in the game, and those are exactly the kind of murky plays most players want the league to sanction right into extinction.
As always, Patrice Bergeron is the voice of reason on these situations after his career was almost snuffed out by one of those borderline hockey plays three years ago.
I thought Hornqvist certainly deserved the match penalty, said Bergeron. He led with an elbow instead of his shoulder, so it was clearly an elbow. I dont know what their take on the hit was. Maybe they thought the elbow hit Seguins shoulder and then went up into the head. I dont know.
But like Marchand said on his hit, theres nothing you can say about it. The league did whatever they had to do about that one, and on this hit it could have been either way. The fine is one thing. But maybe one game would have been nice to kind of right away send that message to everyone. Heatley got a two-game suspension and Marchand got a two-game suspension. But at least with the Hornqvist fine theyre being consistent in that theyre looking at way more dangerous plays than they used to. I think the NHL is going toward the right direction.
Bergeron is right.
The NHL is heading toward the right direction, but letting Hornqvist off easy after an elbow to the noggin of one of the NHLs brightest young stars proves theres still plenty of progress yet to be gained.