Written by Marc Valeri (www.voiceofvaleri.com)
Watch this video, and come up with a suitable punishment:
If you guessed a suspension, you're a dead wrong. At least according to NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Rather, the disciplinary penalty handed out for nearly killing another human being on the ice (or even giving him a concussion; and we all know how dangerous those can be) is a measley $2,500.
What you just saw was Predators' D Shea Weber doing his best George "The Animal" Steele impression, ramming Red Wings' F Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass following the final whistle in the team's opening round 3-2 win in Game 1.
Weber's attack was unmeritted. It was not a 'hockey play.' It was not a 'fight for positioning.' Zetterberg was unable to defend himself with his back turned. Zetterberg, a 5'11", 197-pounder was illegally attacked from behind by Weber, a 6'4", 232-pound tank, and had his helmet literally cracked in two. What Weber did was a gutless, dirty, cowardly act that could have seriously injured another player for the rest of his life, and he was let off the hook.
Sure, $2,500 may be a lot for people working normal jobs. Weber, however, is making $7.5M this year. Let that sink in for a moment. He's the 21st highest-paid player in the league. His $2,500 fine will take a whopping grand total of 0.00033% out of his paycheck. Better pull out a second mortgage on the house!
Let's take a look at some other fines that really put this one into perspective. Rangers' head coach John Tortorella was fined $20,000 for criticiszing the Penguins following a knee-on-knee hit on F Derek Stepan. So, what did he do? Essentially, he hurt someone's feelings. Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban got $75,000 docked for doing the same thing. Even worse? In the NFL, players can be fined $7,500 for taunting, $7,500 for illegal use of a chinstrap and $5,000 for mismatched socks. So, let's recap–dancing after a touchdown is three times worse than deliberately trying to injure someone, and calling a referee's call hooey is 30 times worse than almost killing another human being in a game. Got it. Thanks for the clarification.
If the fine is that cheap, how are you ever going to stop people from doing things like this? Why not keep doing it? Under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Player's Association, the maximum fine is $2,500. At some point, though, the NHL needs to figure out what is suspension-worthy and what isn't. I'd rather see a borderline call get over-sold at five games than to see one get off scott-free.
Now, on the same day, Canucks' F Byron Bitz ran Kings' F Kyle Clifford from behind into the boards during Game 1 of their series, resulting in a two-game suspension.
In case you haven't connected the dots, allow me to do it for you–one of these players is a big-name, franchise-type NHL player, and the other is a role player.
This has become a regular occurrence for Shanahan, who has essentially confirmed that the National Hockey League has two sets of rules–one for superstars, and one for the rest. Both players were reckless and unsafe, putting their peers' health in danger. Yet, they did not receive equal discipline. And because Weber is a big name in the league, and Bitz is a 'replaceable' player, the league irrationally chose on suspension to be greater than the other.
Another question to ask, is if Zetterberg were to be subbed out for someone else. Say, Sidney Crosby? Steven Stamkos? Evgeni Malkin? Or what if Weber was a less-known defenceman like Nate Prosser or Cody Franson? Would it really be a measley fine? Of course not. Not by a long shot.
Another way to look at it is through the team itself. For years, there's been talk of a handful of American NHL teams being moved, possibly to Canada, where markets can support them. The Atlanta Thrashers were the first domino to fall, as they re-started the much-beloved Winnipeg Jets franchise. There are still many more teams on the brink of extinction: the Coyotes, Blues, Stars and Blue Jackets could all be moved within the next five seasons.
As such, the NHL and American-team-friendly/anti-Canadian commissioner Gary Bettman has tried to prove that small market and non-traditional teams in the NHL can compete with the juggernauts. This season, the Preds made a splash at the trade deadline and built the strongest, deepest team the franchise has ever had. This season is without question, the franchise's best chance to win a Stanley Cup. And with that, the chance of the team's cornerstone player (maybe with the exception of G Pekka Rinne), as well a likely Norris Trophy nominee, being suspended for an illegal act hit on a former Conn Smythe trophy winner reached zero.
After all, the NHL has too much to lose by properly punishing players that maliciously attack other players. Think about it. Capitals' F Alex Ovechkin was suspended three games in March for leaving his feet for a hit on Penguins' D Zbynek Michalek. His response? To skip the 2012 All-Star Game. Not one NHL executive was pleased with this decision, since the fanfest event–one of the league's highest-grossing 'games' of the season–would be short one of the league's most exciting and popular players. The NHL won't make that mistake. Never again.
What makes Shanahan's poor decision even more aggravating is the moronic statement he made afterwards:
"This was a reckless and reactionary play on which Weber threw a glancing punch and then shoved Zetterberg’s head into the glass. As is customary whenever Supplemental Discipline is being considered, we contacted Detroit following the game and were informed that Zetterberg did not suffer an apparent injury and should be in the lineup for Game 2."
How does it matter whether or not Zetterberg was hurt on the play? Are you only going to suspend players or discipline illegal behaviour based on the severity of one's injury? If Zetterberg suffered a concussion, would Weber have gotten three games? What about a cracked skull? 10 games? A broken neck. 25? This makes absolutely no sense. Sure, the Wings probably should have said that Zetterberg was 'day-to-day,' but the fact remains that the victim's health should not be a weighing factor when deciding if somebody should be suspended for maliciously attempting to injure another player. Players should be punished based on the act they've committed, not the end result or outcome–just because Zetterberg remained uninjured, that doesn’t mean Weber wasn’t trying to hurt him. Blackhawks' D Duncan Keith was suspended five games for his elbow to the head of Canucks' F Daniel Sedin. Keith has since returned and is helping his team in the playoffs; Sedin suffered a concussion and is experiencing headaches, and has not returned, and the Canucks, a Stanley Cup favourite, are now down 2-0 in their best-of-7, beginning two straight on the road.
Of course, Weber and head coach Barry Trotz were the first ones to make a laughable comment afterwards:
"It’s a quick game and things happen and it’s an emotional game. I’m just thankful he’s not hurt, and now we can move forward," said Weber.
"Shea’s a big part of our team. The league does a great job all the time of the reviewing. Nothing gets by them anymore," said Trotz.
Sure, hockey's the fastest game on the planet. The sport is filled with gray areas that require split-second decision making, but this incident was as black-and-white as can be. This was not a regular play in the NHL, and it was a blatant attempt to injure. I've watched hockey my entire life, and this is the closest thing to a WWE move I've ever seen. At least Weber knows he can call Vince McMahon when his career comes to a close.
Zetterberg also commented on the 'hit':
"I thought it was dirty. I think it was a direct (blow) to my head and look what happened the last few years with all the head injuries. I think that shouldn’t belong in the game."
You're right, it shouldn't belong. Shanahan and company have generally done an outstanding job in his first season and chief disciplinarian, and I respect the work and effort he puts into his standards, principles and explanations, but this one was perhaps his biggest blown call. These hits have to stop for the good of the game, and for the health of those who play it. Players now know the dangers of concussions–they've lost players like Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. A minor slap on the wrist is no longer sufficient in a game that can cause so much happiness and so much harm–suspensions need to be implemented faster and harder in order to make our game safer.