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NHL response to player violence is a disgrace Print
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Written by Denis Gorman   
Sunday, 15 April 2012 23:29

There is a very simple act the NHL’s powers-that-be can perform when they wish to determine who or what is to blame for the violence that has marred the first round of the playoffs.

altLook in the mirror.

In its first year under the purview of Brendan Shanahan, the Department of Player Safety has proved itself to be the same impotent and oxymoronic entity it was under Colin Campbell.

The NHL’s failings to protect its most precious commodities from themselves has once again come to the forefront, this time in the league’s pre-eminent showcase: The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Five days into the two-month long tournament and the league has made itself a target for disgust and ridicule. It has been richly earned.  

Nashville defenseman Shea Weber attempted to drive Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg head first through the glass at Bridgestone Arena as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Predators’ 3-2 win in Game 1. The stunt prompted a World Wrestling Entertainment employee to mockingly tweet that “Shea Weber may make a good addition to the roster,” Thursday morning. You have hit rock bottom when you are ridiculed by professional wrestling.

Weber’s act was shocking and despicable. It should have been a simple decision for the league’s disciplinarians to suspend Weber.

Should have been.   

The NHL announced Thursday that Weber was fined $2,500. Shanahan explained on the league’s website that his rationale behind the inadequate punishment was that Zetterberg was not injured. Zetterberg told reporters in Nashville Thursday he was “dizzy” afterwards and his helmet had been cracked in two places.

The NHL’s baseline for suspensions does not factor intent. Rather, the determining factor is whether an athlete is injured and the severity of the injury.

It is illogical and indefensible.

Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Arron Asham, like Weber with Zetterberg, had clearly decided to injure an opponent when he attempted to decapitate Philadelphia Flyers rookie center Brayden Schenn with a throat-high cross check in the first period Sunday afternoon.  

That Asham was assessed a match penalty and Schenn returned to the game are irrelevancies. Actions have consequences. The consequence for Asham and for whichever organization decides to employ the UFA for next season should be that he cannot play in his team’s first 25 games. Minimum.

For the record, Asham skated three shifts totaling 42 seconds before being ejected. He was minus-1 with a hit and 10 penalty minutes.

The league set the stage for Asham’s assault by not coming down hard on Weber, and its ruling permitted Matt Carkner to jump Brian Boyle a full 135 seconds into Game 2 of the Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers series.

Ottawa was angry that Boyle had rag-dolled Erik Karlsson in the Senators' Game 1 loss, so the determination was that physical retribution needed to be doled out. So Carkner and career 40 regular-season fighting majors were inserted into the lineup over Matt Gilroy’s one career fight.

That Gilroy recorded 20 points this season to Carkner’s three was immaterial. Carkner can create chaos with his fists.

Which is exactly what he did 2:15 into what would eventually turn out to be a 3-2 overtime win for the Senators by repeatedly striking a defenseless Boyle from behind with vicious punches after the Rangers center bumped Karlsson.

Carkner was ejected for his dishonorable action. He had skated two shifts for a grand total of 39 seconds.Carl Hagelin

Unsurprisingly, the NHL’s response to the violence has been inconsistency. Weber was fined while Vancouver Canucks right wing Byron Bitz was suspended for Games 2 and 3 for boarding Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford in the series opener. Carl Hagelin (pictured), a player who does not have a rap sheet, was banned for three games in response to his elbow to the head of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2 yet Carkner will only sit a game for his assault-and-battery of Boyle, according to separate Shanahan announcements.  

Confused? You’re not alone.

In a statement released Sunday night, the Rangers said the organizations accepts “the NHL's three-game suspension of Carl Hagelin and will not pursue an appeal. However, we are thoroughly perplexed in the ruling's inconsistency with other supplementary discipline decisions that have been made throughout this season and during the playoffs.  We will have no further comment on this decision.”

Where are those whose primary employment duties are to officiate the games?

They are being derelict in their duties by watching the violence.

Ian Walsh stood three feet from Carkner on Saturday night, his right arm extended skyward, as the Ottawa defenseman repeatedly punched a defenseless opponent. Two linesmen stared as Craig Adams pulled chunks of Scott Hartnell’s hair from his head during a late-game fight Sunday.

The league’s response has been silence, save for Shanahan’s video explanations and Campbell telling the Canadian Press that its executives were “upset” with linesman Tony Sericolo for missing Danny Briere being offside on the play that led to his first of two goals in Game 1 of the Flyers-Penguins series.

As long as the league has its priorities in order.

You can follow us on Twitter @HockeyPrimeTime and @DenisGorman

Pictures by Getty Images

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Last Updated on Monday, 16 April 2012 11:45