The NHL‘s Department Of Player Safety will get one wrong here and there. They’ll levy a fine on a player for something that is more or less just part of a rough game. Sometimes, as in the case of Dallas Stars forward Ryan Garbutt‘s five-game suspension for charging Anaheim Ducks star Dustin Penner, they get the call right but get overzealous with the punishment.
Or sometimes they don’t punish enough. This is the case with Monday’s announcement of a fine to Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy for clipping New York Rangers winger Derek Dorsett. Late in the second period of Saturday’s game in New York, Dorsett entered the offensive zone on a breakaway. Murphy, defending the back end, skated in on Dorsett then suddenly dropped his entire body, crashing into Dorsett’s knees and sending him tumbling end-over-end, eventually creating a scuffle amongst players.
The Department Of Player Safety (DPS) fined Murphy the oddly specific maximum fine for clipping of $2,213.68. Murphy, who was assessed a minor penalty for clipping on the play, will miss no games and is eligible to play immediately.
Dangerous hits seem to be the hot button topic for Brendan Shanahan and the DPS these days. In just the last month, DPS handed out suspensions against Garbutt, New York Islanders‘ Michael Grabner, Phoenix Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Carter Ashton— all suspensions for some variety of dangerous hit.
Murphy being merely fined for his actions is in no way indicative of any special treatment by Shanahan or the DPS. What it is a sign of is a fundamental breakdown in the way the DPS structures their rules and consequences. The recent suspensions were for hockey crimes such as charging, boarding, and targeting the head. These are all extremely dangerous and scary things to do on the ice. While there was some discrepancy concerning whether Garbutt deserved five games for a hit nearly identical to Grabner’s that got him two, more or less the DPS is giving suspensions for endangering life and limb.
The burning question is — why isn’t clipping on this list?
Clipping is seriously dangerous. Anyone who has laced up skates can tell you the last thing you want to do after being hit is come up off the ice. As long as you’re against a board or falling straight down, the trauma is mostly confined to what the opposing player’s body is handing out. When a player’s skates leave the ice and he is tumbling through the air — as Dorsett was — gravity and inertia become cruel mistresses and there’s no telling where or on what body part you will land. In reviewing the video, the scary part is not only Dorsett’s knees colliding with the more rigid parts of Murphy but the end where Dorsett lands on the ice dangerously close to his face and neck. Thankfully Dorsett sprang back up immediately, but landing on one’s neck is how paralysis happens.
The other, more apparent danger to clipping is that it targets a player’s knees. Knees are a funny thing, and their complexity as it relates to sports medicine is apparent in the slight limp retired athletes often have. Any slight twist or bend in any direction the knee isn’t specifically designed to go can end even the brightest of careers.
Shanahan is handcuffed on this one. Murphy is relatively new to the NHL, having played only in four games last season. It’s imperative for DPS to teach him ‘this is not how we do it in this league.’ Murphy isn’t in Kitchener or Charlotte anymore and must conform to a higher standard of play. Shanahan really would have wanted to suspend Murphy for a good long while and probably should have.
It’s baffling why clipping isn’t listed among the capital offenses in the NHL. It has the power to cripple and end careers just as much as any of the other suspension-worthy offenses. Murphy needed a bigger book thrown at him than giving up the equivalent of a MacBook Pro. Does someone have to be put in a wheelchair before the league gives equal punishment to clipping or will this be another Hybrid Icing?