It’s early in the playoffs, so it’s best we get these things out of the way as soon as possible. To its credit, that’s what the NHL has done. By fining Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators for his actions in Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings, the league’s head office has succeeded in establishing two things very early in the post-season: 1. As long as you’re willing to part with $2,500 in pocket change, feel free to punch an opponent in the back of the head, then grab his head from behind and smash it into the glass; and, 2. The NHL’s system of supplementary discipline has officially once again become a complete joke.
Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg, the player whose face Weber introduced to the glass at the Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night, should be accustomed to such outlandish rulings. After all, back in 2002-03, Bryan Allen received a two-game suspension for slashing Zetterberg’s leg and breaking it.
Of course, that was almost a decade ago and you’d think the guys who run the league would have evolved just a little since then. You’d also think that a league that pays lip service to the problem of concussions would, you know, actually do something about preventing them. Of course, you’d be wrong.
There is no doubt in my mind NHL vice-president of player safety and hockey operations Brendan Shanahan has the most misleading job title in history. There is also no doubt in my mind this decision was made 100 percent objectively. After all, if Shanahan was going to show any favoritism, wouldn’t he have done so in favor of the team with which he won three Stanley Cups?
But look at the optics of this. Byron Bitz is a – pardon the pun – bit player for the Vancouver Canucks who received a two-game suspension for targeting a player’s head and giving him a concussion in Game 1. Shea Weber is a likely Norris Trophy finalist and a headline player who performs in an emerging market that desperately needs to have a long playoff run this spring. The Canucks, not the most loved franchise in the league, can easily replace Bitz. The Predators would be a much lesser team without Weber.
Go to town, conspiracy theorists. The NHL just gave you all the ammunition you need.
Worse though, is that when Shanahan came onto the scene, it was supposed to mark the end of the era when the league just seemed to make these decisions by the seat of its pants. There was supposed to be structure, accountability and a sense of deterrence. None of that has happened and judging by the first days of the playoffs, don’t count on it emerging anytime soon.
• Brent Sutter hasn’t proved to be a very good NHL coach to this point in his career based on his results, but give him credit. He was one of the few people in the Calgary Flames organization to recognize this roster needs to be blown up and rebuilt and he was willing to lose his job to make those views clear.
Sutter made it clear he would have been more than willing to oversee the rebuild of the team that everyone outside the Flames management and ownership group recognizes is in order. But these guys think an aging roster chock full of bad contracts, with little help on the way, should remain intact despite missing the playoffs three years running.
You could argue there’s no team in the league whose ownership has more say over hockey operations than the Flames. We’re left to wonder whether GM Jay Feaster would have gone along with Sutter’s plan if he had unfettered freedom to dictate the Flames roster and the thinking in most quarters is he probably would have. We’re also left to wonder exactly where the Flames are headed with this group.
Until this franchise at least has the conversation that includes the prospect of trading Jarome Iginla and making other painful changes, we suspect Flames fans are in for a steady diet of teams that are not good enough to make the playoffs and not weak enough to capitalize on high draft picks. In other words, hockey hell.
• The NHL’s discipline department isn’t the only one off to a bad start in the playoffs. The officiating crews have been a little less than sterling as well. In Game 1 of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series, Daniel Briere got the Flyers on the board with a crucial goal that was obviously offside. Then in Game 1 of the Phoenix-Chicago series, Taylor Pyatt tied the score on a goal that came seconds after the Coyotes clearly had six skaters on the ice and should have been called for too many men on the ice.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.