Examining the IIHF’s four-game suspension of Griffin Reinhart
NHL hockey may be returning, but there is still one outstanding matter from the World Junior Hockey Championships to be discussed. In light of what we've seen from the NHL and IIHF in recent years, was the Team Canada defenseman's four-game ban warranted?
When Brendan Shanahan took over as the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations - fancy talk for Head Disciplinarian - he was asked what would go into his decision-making when it came to supplementary discipline. Beyond the obvious - abiding by the rulebook, weighing injury and history alike - Shanahan admitted what is the key behind the process at any level. "Instincts will play a part in this." No, Shanahan doesn't work for the IIHF, and Griffin Reinhart is not an NHL player, but the principle holds firm on any stage: There are guidelines, but ultimately, when it comes to discipline, it's all up to interpretation.
That is why it's so easy to criticize the IIHF's decision to suspend Griffin Reinhart for four games for his high-stick/slash to the face of American Vince Trochek. As Shanahan and now IIHF President Rene Fasel - or whomever it is that makes these decisions - have discovered, doling out such punishment is a thankless job. The only principles that can really be used to determine these punishments - precedent and ensuring player safety - have become contradictory, but we'll get to that. Here is the play in question.
First, let's examine the most common criticism of the suspension, which is that it is inconsistent with the IIHF's prior rulings from this tournament. In the Yahoo! Sports blog Buzzing the Net, Neate Sager voices this argument well. If the IIHF, he argues, is okay with delivering a lengthy suspension on a play in which the victim wasn't even hurt, then how come American Ryan Hartman wasn't given supplementary discipline for a late hit to the head on Ryan Murphy? In addition, dangerous late headshots - something the NHL has been committed to eliminating - by JC Lipon, Lukas Sieber and Boone Jenner garnered only 1-3 game bans.
Those plays however are tough to compare with what Reinhart did because they're hits, which are "hockey plays". I'm not using that term just to use it, but because it makes sense. Players are taught to hit, and to hit hard. It's a fast game, and as a result late hits and hits to the head should be easier to forgive - extreme cases aside, we'll examine this more later - than, say slashes to the head, which serve no purpose other than attempting to injure or respond to an opponent's action. Instead of looking at hit-based punishment as a precedent, let's find more compelling evidence.
More similar instances of precedent for the IIHF would be the crosschecks to the face, from this very tournament, of Tanner Richard and Maxim Shalunov.
Like with the Reinhart slash, these two similar crosschecks are anything but "hockey plays". They may not be as blatantly violent as a wind-up and swing, but there is no excuse for what Richard and Shalunov did, and considering Reinhart's punishment, one would have expected at least 2-game bans for these players. Instead, Shalunov was shelved for one game, and Richard wasn't even penalized, let alone suspended. Those punishments don't match up.
Let's look at another example. Considering that the NHL and IIHF have virtually identical guidelines when it comes to high-sticking, slashing, and even supplementary discipline - in which case the answer is virtually none - it isn't too problematic that the best comparable for Reinhart's action is a slash by the Minnesota Wild's Pierre-Marc Bouchard from last season. Consider the video below.
Like Reinhart, Bouchard argued that he never intended to make contact with the face. Unlike Reinhart, the NHLer might actually have a case. As Shanahan explains in the video, it's possible that the victim, Columbus' Matt Calvert, deflected Bouchard's stick up towards his own face accidentally. With Reinhart, however, there is no question that the stick was always heading for the head. As the IIHF points out:
"Reinhart made eye contact with his opponent, raised his stick and delivered a two-handed slash to the head and neck area of Trochek, who fell to the ice as a result of the infraction."
Intent is always tough to prove; what is clear is that from what we do know, the two incidents are fairly similar. Bouchard earned a two-game suspension for the violent slash, or 1/42 of an 82 game season. Reinhart, for a marginally more dangerous play, earned a four-game ban, or about 2/3 of the tournament. For Reinhart, if the suspension is upheld following his appeal, the damage could be even more severe, as a three-game ban carrying over to next year's tournament could mean his exclusion from the squad. Considering how these proportions aren't close, and how similar the rulebooks for the two institutions are, this punishment doesn't seem to fit.
But sometimes, it's acceptable for precedent to be overruled. Brendan Shanahan did it when he suspended Raffi Torres for his late charge to the head of Marian Hossa in last year's playoffs. The 25-game ban Torres received was far greater than any other suspension from that year's playoffs, and - after weighing the importance of playoff games relative to regular season games - was the largest suspension in NHL history. That said, many people - myself included - were in favor of the suspension, because they recognized that Torres' actions were intentional, incredibly dangerous, and that previous more minor suspensions simply weren't getting the message across. After seeing two blatant cross-checks to the face already in this tournament, maybe the IIHF felt that a blatant and intentional slash to the face - let's not pretend it was accidental - was grounds to make a statement: Players who intentionally and egregiously disregard the tournament's rules, and in doing so put the safety of other players at risk, will not be allowed to play in the tournament. Considering how secretive the IIHF is, it's impossible to know if this was the idea behind the suspension, but if it was, a lengthy ban is entirely understandable. It is something the NHL has done numerous times before. It was done with Chris Simon, with Jesse Boulerice, and with Todd Bertuzzi. What Griffin Reinhart did at a time of great frustration is entirely unacceptable, and he is paying the price for it. His career will continue, World Juniors or not; hopefully, he'll be more aware of the potential consequences of his actions from here on forward.
How long should Griffin Reinhart have been suspended for his slash to the head?