Usually, the NHL postseason is a time to celebrate the best of the best, as it’s the rare time when ESPN actually shows amazing goals and great saves. This year however, the biggest storyline surrounding the NHL playoffs have not been the saves or the scores. And no, I’m not referring to that pathetic series between the Flyers and Penguins.
The biggest story to come out of the first round of the playoffs has been the suspensions dealt out by NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. The former player has come under scrutiny for delivering very inconsistent punishments for players who commit vicious hits or checks during games.
In Game 2 of the Rangers-Senators series, Ottawa’s Matt Carkner knocked Rangers center Brian Boyle down and continually punched him in the back of the head as Boyle lay on the ice. Carkner’s attack was likely caused by a questionable hit Boyle laid on Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. Boyle was shaken up but returned to the game, while Carkner received a game misconduct penalty.
Later in the same game, New York forward Carl Hagelin was charged with elbowing Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. While it was a clear elbow, it was unclear if Hagelin was trying to really hurt Alfredsson. Hagelin served a four-minute major, while Alfredsson was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the next three games.
The following day, Shanahan leveled a three-game suspension on Hagelin and handed a one-game suspension to Carkner.
That’s right: The guy who blatantly assaulted a player on the ice got suspended for fewer games than a player who took a bad penalty.
Shanahan argued that he suspended Hagelin for more games because his hit caused an injury.
Were both penalties suspension worthy? Absolutely. But factoring in intent is just as important as factoring in injury.
The Carkner-Hagelin incident is just one example of times when Shanahan’s suspensions have been conflicting during the playoffs.
Shea Weber didn’t receive a suspension for shoving the head of Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of the Nashville-Detroit series.
This isn’t to say Shanahan hasn’t been inclined to throw the hammer down before. He handed out an eight-game suspension to James Wisniewski for an elbow in a preseason game.
So far, the lack of uniformity has rattled Shanahan’s reputation, even though he was one of the most respected players during his time in the NHL.
The best thing for Shanahan to do this offseason is to take a page out of Roger Goodell’s playbook. Goodell has been suspension and fine happy since he took over as commissioner of the NFL in 2006.
Even though he has come under scrutiny for perhaps being too strict in terms of assessing fines to players for dirty hits, Goodell has been constant in delivering penalties. If a player makes a helmet-to-helmet hit, he knows a fine is coming.
This isn’t to say there has to be an exact system of punishment, but Shanahan needs to find a way to create consistency. If he fails to do so, he not only hurts his own credibility, but the credibility of the whole league.