LOS ANGELES — The first two days of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now in the books, but, disappointingly, one of the most memorable aspects of the playoffs so far is the fact that how the National Hockey League handles supplementary discipline is still little more than a joke.
Before you start rolling your eyes, this is not really about the merits of Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll’s hit from behind on San Jose Sharks defenseman Ian White in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series on April 14. It is also not about if Sharks defenseman Jason Demers should have been suspended for his hit on Kings left wing Ryan Smyth in the same game. Even the punishment Anaheim Ducks right wing Bobby Ryan should receive for stomping on Nashville Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum’s’s foot in Game 2 of their first round series on April 15 is not what this story is about.
These incidents shine an ultra-bright spotlight on the haphazard way the NHL hands out fines and suspensions. Indeed, it often seems that whether or not the incident results in an injury, along with the severity of the injury, dictates whether or not a suspension is handed down, not to mention the number of games.
Of course there are examples where the resulting injury does not appear to factor in the decision. But, more often than not, that is exactly what happens.
To illustrate the haphazard nature of NHL discipline, Stoll received a one-game suspension for his hit from behind on White, and will miss Game 2 of that series on April 16.
But compare that to former Anaheim Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger, who threw a vicious elbow to the head of Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond during Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Final series on June 2, 2007, and received a one-game suspension.
At the time, Pronger was already a repeat offender in the eyes of the NHL, and had a reputation for head hunting going back to his days with the St. Louis Blues. Yet all he got was a little, teeny, slap-on-the-hand one-game suspension, rather than being forced to miss several games, as he deserved.
Of course, this incident is just one out of many that have bewildered hockey fans for decades.
Stoll is not a dirty player, and did not appear to run White with any intent to hit him in the head. Nevertheless, the hit was clearly from behind, and he made contact with White’s head. It was the kind of hit the league is trying to rid themselves of.
But Demers’ hit on Smyth also falls under that category, as he skated hard at Smyth and launched himself, leaving his feet with his left elbow raised, hitting Smyth in the head.
No penalty was called on either play. But there should have been. In both cases, referees Greg Kimmerly and Brad Watson blew it.
League disciplinarian Colin Campbell made the right call by suspending Stoll for one game. But he turned right around and showed how wildly random decisions on fines and suspensions can be by not even subjecting Demers to any supplementary discipline, even though the hit was very clearly worthy of it.
The same should apply to Ryan, who also escaped a penalty during the game when he stomped on Blum’s foot. That should have earned him a match penalty for a deliberate attempt to injure.
That said, there have been other incidents in the past that involved harder, more vicious stomps. However, that is a very dangerous thing to do with a sharp skate blade, and it must be considered deliberate and an attempt to injure. As such, Ryan should be suspended.
But remember…this is the NHL, where they make decisions by throwing darts and seeing what action it lands on.
While that is an obvious exaggeration, the results are almost always indistinguishable.
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