Well, the old-time hockey guys in the NHL’s head office must be doubling over patting themselves on the back right about now. They’ve instantly created a gong show in the first-round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. And in a league that openly admits that it sells hate, it just got exactly what it wants.
No matter that its ludicrous decision not to suspend P.K. Subban for his two-handed slash to the hand of Mark Stone has suddenly hijacked this series. Between now and Friday night for Game 2, few people will be talking about how the Canadiens fourth line depth players, who had been dormant for much of the season, rescued them in Game 1. Fewer will be talking about how arguably the two best goaltenders in the NHL going into the playoffs, Carey Price and Andrew Hammond, have to be much better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1.
No, everyone will spend the next day and a half wondering how the Senators will respond to this. And my guess is Chris Neil will be the most important player on both teams in Game 2. He will, I’m guessing, take every opportunity to run at P.K. Subban and will target Montreal’s skill players every opportunity he gets. And someone will probably get hurt. There will be all kinds of donnybrooks, a few fights and a lot of post-whistle scrums. If I'm Alex Galchenyuk or Tomas Plekanec, I'm keeping my head up Friday night.
And you have to understand this because it’s important. This is what the NHL wants. P.K. Subban should have been, and should be, suspended for his slash on Stone. Full stop. It’s ridiculous that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety would rule that Subban would not be suspended before learning the extent of Stone’s injury. And just to review, how exactly is it that a guy can two-hand an opponent across the hand, receive a major penalty and a game misconduct, have that player suffer a microfracture in his hand that will either take him out of the series or limit his effectiveness, and not have the perpetrator suspended?
Here is how the discipline system works. The league judges whether something should be deemed a suspendable offense based on the incident itself, not whether the player on the receiving end of the offense is injured. Once it’s decided a player will be suspended, if the player is hurt, then the injury gets taken into account. And as someone close to the situation said, it brings into question exactly what a microfracture is. It could be just a bone bruise, but there is little debate that Stone was injured on the play. And he’ll likely either play injured or have to sit out some or all of the series.
But that’s the NHL. Right in Article 18 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement it sets out the parameters for on-ice discipline. It talks about being effective and in dealing with on-ice acts, “including the use of excessive and unnecessary force and reckless acts resulting in injury.” Then it goes on to say, and it actually says this: “In doing so, however, the parties do not intend to alter the basic fabric of our game.”
That is code, everyone. The league and its players’ association want to make it clear that anyone who would attempt to sissify “their” game by, say, wanting to see players suspended for two-handing their opponents and breaking their hands, is going to be disappointed.
This, of course, is where the pro-fighting crowd gets all sorts of credence. They reason that since the league is so terrible at governing itself, there have to be players out there who have a means of policing the game themselves. And when you see things like this happen, it’s very difficult to disagree with them.
The NHL could have, and still could, make this right. It could have waited on its decision to suspend Subban until later today when the most possible information was available. And there is nothing in the league’s bylaws or the CBA that prevents the league from going back on its decision between now and when the puck drops Friday night and decide to suspend Subban, either for being forceful or reckless. One source said the league has not learned anything to this point that would prompt it to change its decision. Short of Subban coming out sometime prior to Game 2 and publicly declaring that it was intention to get Ottawa’s best forward out of the series whatever it took, Subban will keep playing.
Of course the NHL will not change its decision. Because the old-time hockey guys just love this. And they’re going to love what happens in Game 2 even more.