The Return of the Double Standard


Should Shea Weber have been suspended for mauling Henrik Zetterberg? (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

by Rhys Richards (@RREsq)

People in all walks of life methodically make decisions or choose actions in the name of building their reputations. Unfortunately, some learn that one bad decision or action can undercut months and even years of hard work such that a once sterling reputation cannot be rehabilitated.

On June 1, 2011, Brendan Shanahan succeeded Colin Campbell as the NHL’s Vice President of Hockey and Business Development. NHL teams, players and fans know that position as the one tasked with handing down suspensions and fines to offending hockey players.

Throughout the season, Shanahan did not shy away from his job duties. He set the tone early with a five-game suspension of Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for boarding Matt Clarkson. Three days later, he handed down a lengthy twelve-game suspension of new Columbus Blue Jacket and top pairing defenseman James Wisniewski.

Shanahan proceeded to hand out nine suspensions before the regular season even began. By season’s end, Shanahan had handed out 44 suspensions totaling 135 regular season games and 28 preseason games.

Shanahan suspended intriguing prospects such as Detroit’s Brendan Smith, established players like Toronto’s Clarke MacArthur, St. Louis’ Chris Stewart and Phoenix captain Shane Doan, emerging stars like Montreal’s Max Pacioretty and superstars like Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang, Boston’s Milan Lucic, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Chicago’s Duncan Keith.

Shanahan suspended players based upon their activity on the ice, not their status as a journeyman or superstar. He suspended players guilty of infractions regardless of whether the player on the receiving end was a fourth-line forward or third pairing defenseman or a top forward, defenseman, or goalie. He suspended players regardless of who their upcoming opponents were. He quite simply reviewed the play in question, applied the rule and doled out the appropriate suspension as dictated by precedent, the offending player’s past discipline and to some extent, whether the play resulted in injury.

Shanahan was a breath of fresh air in the post-Campbell era of discipline because suspensions and fines were more consistent and erred on the side of the safety of the players, not a concern about superstar status and ticket sales. Shanahan became known for his iron fist, especially if the main target of a hit was another player’s head.

In an era of professional sports flooded by stories of concussions caused by questionable plays, Shanahan helped the NHL to rise above the other major professional sports as a league that genuinely cared about each and every one of its players.

On Wednesday night in the dying seconds of Nashville’s victory in game one of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Predators’ superstar defenseman Shea Weber punched Red Wing superstar forward Henrik Zetterberg in the back of the head, then grabbed Zetterberg and slammed him face first into the glass.

Zetterberg was slow to get up and underwent a baseline test to rule out a concussion a short time later. The cheap shots were forceful enough that Zetterberg’s helmet cracked into two pieces. Fortunately, Zetterberg passed the testing and is otherwise healthy.

On the same night, Vancouver’s Byron Bitz took an equally ugly run at Los Angeles’ Kyle Clifford, whose back was turned to Bitz. Bitz was called for boarding and ejected from the game; Clifford remains questionable for the second game of the series. The next day, Shanahan suspended the Canuck defenseman for two games. Curiously, he ordered Weber, whose actions were similarly reprehensible, to pay a $2,500 fine. For a player making $7.5 million this season, the fine amounted to $20 for someone earning $60,000.

Just like that, Shanahan ruined his reputation as a fair and equitable principal. For hockey fans, Shanahan’s decision to slap Weber on the wrist was more of the same expected during the playoffs.

For fans of other sports tuning into a hockey game because it was the playoffs, Weber’s WWE-style head bashing exemplified the barbarism hockey is erroneously known for by ignorant non-hockey fans. To the hockey outsider, the resulting fine must appear to encourage such deplorable behavior.

Detroit visits Nashville tonight for game two of the series. The puck drops at 7:30 EST on CNBC.

Suspensions, players, and other information obtained at www.nesn.com and www.nhl.com.

Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq. He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com. Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.

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