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NHL Discipline Seems Broken After Lawless Weekend Of Playoff Hockey

After a wild, lawless weekend in the NHL, there are serious questions surrounding Brendan Shanahan and the league's Department of Player Safety.

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Boy, and we thought Thursday's non-suspension of Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber was insane. Sunday day and night, things got a little stranger around the National Hockey League.

NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan became a busy man over the weekend, and his work only started Sunday. It was then that he dealt with incidents that occurred in playoff games Saturday night. Early in Saturday's game between Ottawa and the New York Rangers, Senators "tough guy" Matt Carkner decided it was time for Rangers big man Brian Boyle to pay for sins committed during Thursday's series opener.

(Boyle's rabbit punches to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson Thursday had everyone upset. Apparently, it took until Saturday before the Senators realized that a highly-skilled young player might take a few hits in a road playoff game against a physical team.)

Carkner, however, didn't have a willing dance partner in Boyle.

Carkner was ejected, as was New York's Brandon Dubinsky (who took out his remaining aggressions on the poor, defenseless Gatorade cooler). Boyle fought Chris Neil later in the game, atoning for his Thursday transgressions.

Later in the game, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson took a pretty nasty hit from Rangers forward Carl Hagelin.

I'm not defending Hagelin, but I never figured that he would get a longer suspension than Carkner got.

I also never figured that Hagelin would get a longer suspension than Vancouver's Byron Bitz got for his hit on Kyle Clifford Wednesday.

Low and behold, he did. The NHL announced a one-game suspension for Carkner and a three-gamer for Hagelin on Sunday, while Bitz got two games for his hit. It's led to many cries that Shanahan may have completely lost his marbles.

Of the four incidents I've described here, two of them resulted in injuries. Clifford missed Games 2 and 3 of the Kings-Canucks series. Alfredsson left the Ottawa-New York game Saturday and did not return. Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg (who was the Ric Flair to Shea Weber's Ricky Steamboat) was not injured and has played in the series' last two games. Boyle returned to the game Saturday, as I already noted, and scored a goal for the Rangers.

There is no logical connection to these decisions besides injuries. It's something I railed against when ripping the NHL for the Weber decision last week. When you use injuries as such a huge deciding factor in supplemental discipline, your system has more holes in it than the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line (sorry, too soon?). It's as if a player's ability to avoid a suspension is determined by whether the guy he lit up got hurt or not.

I'm not defending the hits by Bitz or Hagelin -- both of which warranted suspensions, I think -- but they were simply unfortunate. Weber cracked Zetterberg's helmet, but failed to injure him, plus he's a star, so he gets to keep playing, no matter how bad it looked on live national television then and YouTube now.

Under Colin Campbell, Shanahan's predecessor as the league's dean of discipline, decisions became a punch line. It got so bad that some genius created the hilarious NHL Wheel of Justice website.

Well, things aren't much better right now.

Shanahan started well in his position, but as more and more decisions seem to be made by the injury suffered or not suffered by the "victim" on a particular play, I'm left with questions.

  • Has Shanahan lost his edge?
  • Is he afraid to take a star player out of postseason games?
  • Is he receiving direction from above?
  • Is there someone else in the league office telling him to judge based primarily on injuries?

No matter what the answer is, the league is again faced with the problems it had a year ago. Perfectly sane and reasonable hockey people no longer are taking the supplemental discipline system seriously. Someone who was saluted in October is being vilified now.

And everyone is looking for answers. Those answers might not come until we are through the playoff grind, but there will be much pressure on the NHL to find ways to fix something that appears to be seriously broken.