Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was not a happy man on Monday evening, as he learned that forward Brad Marchand had been suspended five games by the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
His clipping penalty against Sami Salo of the Vancouver Canucks had already earned Marchand a major penalty -- one that directly cost the Bruins a win against the Canucks on Saturday, thanks to two goals on the ensuing power play -- and a game misconduct. The suspension was just another punch in the face.
Chiarelli's displeasure was based on two factors: That other similar incidents had gone unpenalized in the past, and that Marchand was only defending himself on the play with Salo. Let's examine exactly what the general manager had to say, starting with the most incomprehensible bit of the whole incomprehensible statement. Emphasis ours.
"It is equally disappointing that Brad sought the counsel of the Department this past Fall for an explanation and clarification regarding this type of scenario so as to adjust his game if necessary. He was advised that such an incident was not sanctionable if he was protecting his own safety. Given our feeling that Brad was indeed protecting himself and certainly did not clip the player as he contacted the player nowhere near the knee or quadricep, today's ruling is not consistent with what the Department of Player Safety communicated to Brad."
If protecting his own safety. That's the crux of the argument from the Bruins organization on this play -- whether it's from Claude Julien, Milan Lucic, Chiarelli or Marchand himself. Brendan Shanahan explained the completely obvious position that Marchand was very obviously not defending himself by clipping Salo.
"While we understand that in certain circumstances a player may duck or bail instinctively in order to protect himself from an imminent, dangerous check, we do not view this play as defensive or instinctive," Shanahan explained. "Rather, we feel this was a predatory low hit delivered intentionally by Marchand in order to flip his opponent over him."
It was very obviously a predatory hit, and all one needs to do to realize that is pull off the gold glasses. As the NHL's suspension video outlined, Marchand had delivered a clean check on Salo seconds prior to the offending hit. He was clearly pissed off at Salo, throwing multiple punches to the back of his head. Then, on their next trip to the wall, Marchand ducked and went right at his knees.
There was absolutely no sign that Salo was even going to hit Marchand at all, let alone "take a run at him," as basically everybody in the Bruins organization insisted on Monday. It wasn't self-defense. It was a clip. A hit at or below the knees.
I can't believe we even need to do this, but, well... you apparently need it, Boston.
Let's move on to the rest of the crazy.
"While we respect the process that the Department of Player Safety took to reach their decision regarding Brad's hit on Sami Salo, we are very disappointed by their ruling.
"While we understand that the Department of Safety is an evolving entity, it is frustrating that there are clear comparable situations that have not been penalized or sanctioned in the past.
We're going to assume that Chiarelli is directly referencing an incident from last year's playoffs against the Canucks with this statement. In Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Mason Raymond delivered a similar check to, who else, Brad Marchand.
It's a very similar play to the Marchand-Salo hit, but at the same time it's completely different. Raymond has the puck on his stick along the boards and is looking to push the play up ice. Marchand comes all the way from the blue line, directly at Raymond on a line. The Canuck looks up and gets out of the way of the check. It's self-defense in every sense of the term.
Okay, then, maybe it wasn't this incident. Maybe Chiarelli was talking about another incident from the same series, where Marchand went low on Daniel Sedin. To the waning minutes of Game 4, shall we?
On this one, it's really more of the same. Sedin is coming right at Marchand and while there might be a little bit of malicious intent -- Daniel isn't the most physical of players, so it's not like he really needed to worry about a big hit here -- he never goes as low as the knees. For a penalty to be clipping, the player has to hit at or below the knees. This wasn't clipping.
What about this play in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals between the Canucks and Nashville Predators, then? Keith Ballard went low on Jordin Tootoo.
This was a textbook clip. Ballard picked up a penalty for clipping on it, too. Maybe the complaint is that he wasn't suspended, but consider that Ballard doesn't have a suspension history and Tootoo wasn't injured on the play. These are factors the NHL cites all the time in making suspension decisions. Add in the fact that it was the playoffs and it's pretty clear why Ballard didn't pick up any supplemental discipline.
Another example: Remember Dan Hamhuis' hit on Milan Lucic in Game 1 of the Final? Hamhuis actually wound up getting hurt on this play, and the Canucks were without one of their top defensemen for the rest of the series. In a close seven-game set like that Final was last year, it could have even been the difference maker.
Yes, it was clipping. No, it wasn't called for clipping. Yes, the officials got this one wrong, and no, this wouldn't have been a suspension in the playoffs. You have to murder somebody to get suspended in the playoffs. But we'll give you this one, Peter. You're right. One time last year in the playoffs, the Canucks should have been penalized for clipping and they were not. A grave miscarriage of justice if we've ever seen one.
Here's the point: Brad Marchand went directly at the knees of Sami Salo on Saturday. It was clearly a clipping penalty, and when you mix in Marchand's suspension history, the very obvious intent he had on the play (plenty of context just seconds earlier on the same shift), and the fact that Salo suffered a concussion? Yeah, that's going to be a lengthy suspension every single time, as it should be.
Clipping is a dirty play. It's unnecessary and it can cause serious damage, perhaps even career-ending if an unsuspecting player were to fall the wrong way after the hit. You can sit there and complain about how hitting is being driven out of the game every time a hit like this is turned into a suspendable offense, but, well... you'd be wrong.
The Bruins and Canucks have both been guilty of clipping penalties in the past. Both teams have their fair share of dirty players, as they do whiny executives. While both are phenomenal hockey clubs, they're equally hated for some of their antics -- and rightfully so.
Instead of complaining about a legitimate suspension, Chiarelli and the rest of his organization could have actually saved face by owning up to a dirty play. Instead, they chased the moral high ground, and in this rivalry between these two clubs, that's like running after a wild goose.