The Great Irony of NHL Hockey

The people in charge of the NHL from the ownership, to Colin Campbell, to Brendan Shanahan are all decidedly "old school". A large portion of fans and media are as well. And by old school I mean they don't want, as Mike Milbury would put it, "the pansification of the game".

The line trotted out by the Milburys and Don Cherrys of the world is always the same, they don't want officiating (or in this case, suspensions) deciding the outcome of games. But here's the great irony in this line of thinking, if you don't officiate and suspend, the games still aren't being decided by who's better at hockey, but who's better at cheating the system, and who's better at hurting the other team's best players.

This year's playoffs have been embarrassing for hockey fans as we see incidents like Shea Weber slam Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass, and the only response is him losing 0.03% of his yearly salary.

Since that moment it's been pure chaos all over the place from the Bruins going after recently concussed Nicklas Backstrom's head, to the Penguins going after any Flyer they can find, to Raffi Torres tonight putting Marian Hossa in the hospital with a late hit that had no business being made.

The NHL avoids creating standards for suspensions like it's the plague, because they want to have ways to avoid suspending players. When Zdeno Chara broke Max Pacioretty's neck, the league was adamant that they couldn't prove intent, and that was all that mattered because accidents happen. When Weber slammed Zetterberg's head into the glass, intent didn't matter because there wasn't an injury. I look at this absurd sliding rule of what matters with regard to suspensions, and feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Carl Hagelin gets 3 games for a high hit on Alfredsson, yet a few shifts before that, Chris Phillips laid a perfect carbon copy of that hit on Ryan Callahan and didn't even get a call from Shanahan.

Even worse than the inconsistency is the new regime's reluctance for severe punishment. Nearly every suspension since the season began has been either 1 or 3 games. James Wisniewski the only person unlucky enough to be punished for the crime he committed, but that was in preseason, before Shanahan lost his courage.

The dirty little secret of all this is that long suspensions work. Matt Cooke got smacked down hard last year, he knew that he was one stupid act away from saying good bye to the NHL forever, and he's been an altar boy this season. With all the garbage that's gone down in the Penguins/Flyers series, Matt Cooke has really been uninvolved. And guess what, he's still been an effective player.

Whether it be Shanahan, or someone else, the NHL needs to grow some intestinal fortitude with suspensions. Being a star player does not allow you to hurt people with impunity, and as Bruce Boudreau said on Hockey Night in Canada this week, "Either suspensions will start deciding games, or concussions will". Make your choice NHL.

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