TORONTO – Is the NHL on its way to becoming a league without hitting?
Clarke MacArthur certainly thinks so after having his first brush with supplemental discipline. The Toronto Maple Leafs forward was the ninth player suspended by Brendan Shanahan this pre-season—eight of them for infractions involving illegal bodychecks—and believes the NHL crackdown is going to drastically change the sport.
“I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game,” MacArthur said Saturday night. “I think that what is going to happen. No one wants to take five- or 10-game suspensions. You’ve really got to think when you’re going to go finish your hit, you’ve really pay attention because the guy with the puck doesn’t have any responsibility any more.
“It’s on the guy hitting.”
MacArthur’s suspension for the first two games of the regular season stems from a hit on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader on Friday night. The Red Wings forward was bent slightly when MacArthur came across the ice and gave him a glancing blow off the head.
Abdelkader didn’t appear to suffer an injury on the play and suited up for Detroit’s game in Toronto on Saturday.
“I kind of skimmed his shoulder and then clipped him in the head,” said MacArthur. “He comes back after me and starts sucker-punching me. It’s one thing if he’s laying on the ice.
“I don’t know, it’s a tough call. They’re trying to keep the game safe.”
Players around the league have been slow to adapt to off-season changes that expanded the description of rules governing boarding and checking to the head. Essentially, all contact with the head is now off limits and players delivering a check must ensure their opponent isn’t in a vulnerable position.
In Shanahan’s video explaining the MacArthur suspension, he noted that it didn’t matter that the Leafs forward wasn’t trying to make contact with Abdelkader’s head.
“As was explained in the rules and regulation video that all NHL players were required to watch, targeting (the head) is defined as either intentional or reckless,” said Shanahan. “While I agree with MacArthur’s assertion that he did not intentionally target the head, we still consider this hit to be recklessly targetting the head.”
Shanahan has been extremely busy since taking over the league’s disciplinary role as the senior vice-president of player safety. His nine suspensions have totalled 31 regular-season games and close to US$700,000 in lost salary for the players.
There’s a good chance he’ll be adding to that list after Tampa’s Ryan Malone caught Habs defenceman Chris Campoli with a check to head during an exhibition game in Quebec City on Saturday night.
With a strong message having been sent since Shanahan took the job, MacArthur expects it to continue when the regular season kicks off next week.
“The way they’re starting, you can’t really go backwards now,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of money in that fine fund for the year, I can tell you that right now.”
His absence comes at a difficult time for the Leafs.
Tim Connolly and Tyler Bozak each sat out the end of the exhibition schedules with minor injuries while Matthew Lombardi got in just one pre-season game after missing virtually all of last year because of a concussion.
When MacArthur finally returns to the lineup on Oct. 15, he’ll think twice about throwing hits. The play he was suspended for was certainly avoidable.
“Obviously if I could do it over again, I’d just turn away and don’t even go near him,” said MacArthur. “What’s done is done.”