Pronger Suspension: Discipline In The NHL A Joke?

LOS ANGELES — About 48 hours have passed since the Detroit Red Wings pounded on and embarrassed the Anaheim Ducks in game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, taking a 2-1 series lead, and Detroit’s dominance over the Ducks has been all but overshadowed by the vicious, brutal hit laid upon Detroit winger Tomas Holmstrom.

It is indeed unfortunate that hits from behind continue to be such a serious problem in the National Hockey League. We saw it in the Buffalo Sabres/Ottawa Senators series when Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson nailed Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder from behind, driving his head into the railing at the top of the end boards.

And then we saw Holmstrom, who led the way for the Red Wings, scoring two goals and adding an assist, get sandwiched by Ducks forward Rob Niedermayer and defenseman Chris Pronger, the latter coming in from behind, leading with his forearms/elbows and driving Holmstrom’s head hard into the glass at 11:40 of the second period.

Holmstrom had to be helped to the dressing room where he received 13 stitches to close gashes in his face before returning to the game in the third period.

Maybe referees Bill McCreary and Brad Watson should have given Niedermayer a boarding minor…maybe. But indeed, it was Pronger who was careless and dangerous on the play, yet he got off scot-free until NHL chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell suspended him for one game on Wednesday.

Pronger will miss game 4 on Thursday.

It will be debated endlessly as to whether or not Pronger intended to injure Holmstrom, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he had no such intention. Nevertheless, Pronger has a habit of leading his with arms/elbows/headhunting going back to his days with the St. Louis Blues.

Besides, intent is irrelevant in this case. Rather, Pronger’s carelessness and the potential danger he placed Holmstrom in is the issue here.

Pronger was reported to be furious after learning of his suspension. So much so that the Ducks refused to make him available to the media. But Pronger’s anger is badly misguided. He has no one to blame but himself for his carelessness on the play.

Even worse, an angry Ducks general manager Brian Burke tried to put an Anaheim spin on the incident, and came out of the whole thing looking rather foolish, putting it mildly.

Burke, who was Campbell’s immediate predecessor as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, said that he empathized with the job Campbell has to do, but then went on to contradict himself by defending Pronger’s actions and even blame Holmstrom for his injuries by claiming that his helmet was not fastened properly.

Is it just me, or does that sound like blaming a shooting victim for getting in the way of the bullet?

Clearly, Burke’s statement about Holmstrom and his helmet was an absolutely lame, pathetic excuse that destroyed any credibility he may have had regarding this incident.

Quite frankly, anyone who has followed the NHL for any length of time knows that Burke was either lying through his teeth about the incident in an attempt to put an Anaheim spin on it, or he was watching a different game.

Looking at the bigger picture, Burke’s comments give us a glimpse of the mentality he had while he was the league’s chief disciplinarian. To be sure, he was obviously part of the reason that discipline in the NHL has been a complete joke for so many years, with all the bargain-basement fines and usually way-too-short suspensions. Granted, it was already laughable before he was named as the league’s disciplinarian, but he certainly did nothing to change that during his term.

After all that, a one-game suspension for Pronger was the right move by the league. Sadly, they totally blew it by not suspending Alfredsson for his brutal, careless hit on Tallinder. But that’s discipline in the NHL…a total joke.

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