Andrew Shaw chose the wrong time to run afoul of NHL rules.
The Chicago Blackhawks rookie was suspended three games Tuesday—possibly the rest of the season—after hitting Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith behind the net in Game 2 of their series on Saturday night.
With the NHL under fire following a number of questionable incidents in the opening week of the playoffs, disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan sent a strong message to Shaw. The length of his suspension matched the three games given to New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin, another rookie, following his elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson over the weekend.
Earlier this season, Shanahan received a mandate from NHL general managers to come down hard on those who make contact with goalies. He did just that with Shaw.
"As is specifically defined by NHL rules, a goalkeeper is not fair game just because he is outside the goal crease area," Shanahan said in explaining the decision. "The contact Shaw makes with Smith is not incidental; rather, it is a forceful blow delivered by Shaw's shoulder to Smith's chin.
"Also, in our opinion, Shaw does not make a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."
Smith was shaken up on the play, but remained in the game. He returned to the crease for Game 3 on Tuesday night despite missing practice Monday.
Calls to better protect goaltenders started in November after Boston's Milan Lucic ran over Buffalo's Ryan Miller, sidelining him with a concussion. That play went unpunished.
However, Shanahan suspended Nashville's Jordin Tootoo two games a month later after he charged into the crease and ran right over Miller.
Shaw's ban comes at a time when many feel Shanahan has been too lenient. Last week, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber got off with just a US$2,500 fine after grabbing the head of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and smashing it into the end boards on the opening night of the playoffs.
That also brought about suggestions that a "double standard" existed in the way the league deals with star players and those with less profile (like Shaw).
"When you suspend Matt Cooke or Andy Sutton, it's costing those players money," former NHLer Bobby Holik told The Canadian Press this week in an interview. "When you suspend Duncan Keith or Shea Weber, there's a very good chance that it's going to cost the owners money by them either losing a playoff game or playoff round.
"The reality is there's double standards or triple standards, it's always been that way," he added. "Nobody is going to admit it but that's one of the problems that players or people involved in the game see and it causes frustration."
Criticism aside, Shanahan has been a very busy man.
Late Tuesday night, he handed out bans to two Pittsburgh Penguins forwards—giving Arron Asham four games and James Neal one game—and upheld a match penalty to Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom, giving him a one-game suspension.
That brought the total number of suspensions in the playoffs to eight. And there are sure to be more ahead.