NHL Discipline: Officiating, Brendan Shanahan Making A Mockery Of The System

By Randy Holt

Since taking over as the NHL’s lead disciplinarian towards the end of last season, Brendan Shanahan has been no stranger to controversy. His failure to maintain any sort of consistency has led many to go as far as saying he’s right there with Colin Campbell, who Shanahan replaced, as far as how putrid his decision-making ability is.

Not only has Shanahan made it clear that he can’t really grasp the concept of “consistency”, but he has also blatantly based suspensions off of player injury and the history, both of the offender and the injury history of the player that took what was likely an illegal hit.

In the regular season, there was plenty of controversy, though nothing was able to compare to the current firestorm taking place with discipline in the National Hockey League, here in just the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is a first round that has been marred, a great deal, by continued fighting and plenty of illegal hits. That fact, in itself, has reached embarrassing heights, with the violence taking away from the actual game. And Brendan Shanahan has done very little to stop it.

Where it starts is with the Shea Weber incident, in Game 1 of the Nashville Predators‘ series against the Detroit Red Wings. Weber took the head of Henrik Zetterberg and smacked it up against the glass, not once, but twice. Yet Weber, a star player for the Preds, received nothing more than a fine.

Matt Carkner, who Shanahan even mentions is a repeat offender, jumped on Brian Boyle and started punching him repeatedly while Boyle was face down on the ice, received a one-game suspension.

In the melee that took place in Philadelphia on Sunday, you knew suspensions were going to be handed out, and even those were questionable. Arron Asham received just four games for a crosscheck to the neck area of Brayden Schenn, which also included some punches from Asham while Schenn was face down on the ice.

Meanwhile, James Neal only received a one-game suspension after he attempted to run several Flyers players, prior to finally making contact with Sean Couturier and receiving his own game misconduct.

Then you have the most talked about hit of the first round, with Andrew Shaw running into the face of Mike Smith. Compared to what we’ve seen in the first round of this postseason, this one looks mild. Shaw’s shoulder made contact with Smith’s face, after Smith cleared the puck around the boards. It didn’t look malicious, and there was clear acting by Smith, yet Shaw receives a three-game suspension?

Shanahan has set a very dangerous precedent with the way he has handled things. Letting Weber get away with his awful actions on Zetterberg opened the door for bigger name players to get away with pretty much whatever they want, while just receiving a slap on the wrist.

Neal, also a big name player, had intent while he was skating around like a whirling dirvish towards the end of Sunday’s disaster, when the game was already lost for Pittsburgh. Yet, just one game?

At the same time, rookie no names like Shaw are receiving three games for a hit that looked nowhere near malicious and which resulted in no actual injury, since Smith stayed in the game.

Shanahan is sending a message. And that message is that it pays to be a big name in the NHL. His lack of discipline, on Weber in particular, is part of the reason that things have gotten so out of hand recently these playoffs. And until he actually drops the hammer on a consistent basis.

However, Shanahan isn’t the only problem. The officiating thus far in these playoffs has been absolutely horrendous. Just as Shanahan has set the stage for more violent hits to take place, given his lack of proper punishment, on-ice officials in these games have been carrying themselves in a similar manner.

Aside from several questionable calls, such as the goaltender interference that Jonathan Toews received after Mike Smith hit him in Saturday’s Game 2 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes, their lack of discipline in-game has helped to achieve the chaos we’ve seen so far.

We saw it on Sunday in Philadelphia, as the officials failed to punish players right off the bat, and it resulted in a game that was embarrassing for the National Hockey League. On Tuesday night, Raffi Torres maintained his reputation with an unbelievably awful hit on Marian Hossa, which left Hossa exiting the United Center on a stretcher. And none of the four officials saw it.

Things are getting out of hand, both on and off the ice, in these playoffs. If it continues to trend in this direction, with the constant violence due to lack of punishment or competence from officials or Brendan Shanahan, the NHL is going to head in the opposite direction of where they are hoping to go as far as their fanbase.

Making an example out of Torres might be a nice place for him to start, once he throws away the dart board he currently uses to decide on discipline.

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