Tuesday, June 07, 2011

When it comes to NHL discipline, it's wait, what?

Norm MacDonald, the host of the newly arrived "Sports Show" on The Comedy Network (Comedy Central in the USA) has developed an ongoing feature and catch phrase called Wait, What?

A section where he does a double take on some of the hot issues of the day or more unusual of developments in sports, a place where there clearly is no shortage of material.

In fact, if Mr. MacDonald were to take the pronouncements  of hockey discipline as an example (though we imagine a good portion of the US viewing audience would be a tad baffled at such behaviour) he probably could fill up an entire show a night.

The NHL ruled on Tuesday in the matter of Rome v Horton, the stand in sheriff Mike Murphy sitting in for Colin Campbell, the father of Gregory of the Bruins who has recused himself from further disciplinarian calls for this series, and as it turns out for the future as well, having resigned his position prior to the start of the Finals.

Murphy is like a visiting judge for these playoffs, the conduit between the Campbell era and that of Brendan Shanahan, who takes on the duties of Justice Minister in Gary Bettman's cabinet in September.

Though considering the pressure of the job at hand and the lack of clear directives from the NHL board, perhaps he may wish to reconsider that which he is getting himself into.

In a now famous soap commercial, Shanahan declares that he's comfortable in his own skin, good thing, cause he's going to need to be not only comfortable, but leather tough in it for what his new job will require.

Murphy's ruling of Tuesday specified a four game suspension for Aaron Rome, the price he will pay for his open ice hit at the Canuck blue line which has sent Horton to the sidelines, according to the Bruins for the remainder of the playoff season and perhaps for training camp as well.

The nature of the hit, which as we outlined in our previous post on Tuesday nights game, has been the subject of much debate over the last 12 hours and will continue to fuel the discussion we imagine well beyond this playoff season.

The suspension of Rome for the four games, which will cover the remainder of the playoffs will be judged as correct, at least in the context of the need to send a message to the players that hits that lead to injury must be rooted out of the game.

Still, considering the number of similar incidents in the very recent past, one wonders if there is not a question of consistency of punishment that needs to be addressed.

Ask Brent Seabrook in Chicago, the victim of a Raffi Torres hit earlier in this playoff year, he might ask, as McDonald does on his show Wait, What? 

Seeking out an answer as to why there was no punishment for this incident.


Ask Max Pacioretty in Montreal, the victim of a Zdeno Chara hit into a stanchion in Montreal in March, he too could declare Wait, What? 

Asking the question, how come no lengthy suspension for that offence


Go back as far as the game that gained the largest viewership of the regular season, the New Years Winter Classic between Pittsburgh and Washington, when the league's marquee player Sidney Crosby suffered the first of a pair of hits in January that eventually forced him to the injury list, a place he has rested since that time, having yet to be declared fully fit to play hockey.


He too could ask Wait, What?

Wondering aloud if the NHL is really inclined to protect its players at all times and not just when the glare of the national media is on the Stanley Cup Finals.

There are any number of other incidents this past season and from the ones that went before which could garner the same question,  the only common theme an inconsistent application of punishment, an inconsistent nature of guidelines, a situation that perhaps led to the moment that may very well taint this Stanley Cup playoff.

Had players been provided with a better template as to what is, and what is not acceptable, then perhaps Zdeno Chara turns aside from the boards in March, Raffi Torres takes a pass on the obvious hit in May and Aaron Rome lets the moment pass in Boston on Monday night.

Hockey is a fast game, a game of controlled violence at times, that on occasion steps across the line, the problem is, that line seems to move from game to game, leaving us in the place we find ourselves at today.

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