If Dante Alighieri was alive today, he would definitely have included a few hockey players as the some of the lost souls one meets in the Circle of Violence in The Inferno. One needs to look no further than the first round of this year’s NHL playoffs for proof. Fights, big hits, and injuries have all escalated in both number and severity as the NHL entered the postseason. And this, no matter how its looked at, is a problem; a problem the NHL seems clueless as how to handle. There has been a maddening inconsistency from both the on-ice referees and the front-office justice board when it comes to determining what’s a penalty, and what deserves a fine or suspension. So what’s the solution?
For one, start “dropping the hammer” early. Fear is often the greatest deterrent, and if the players know right from the get-go that they’re going to face a major fine or suspension, they’ll shy away from dirty play. Time and again, the referees have chosen to “let them play”, instead of letting players know that they won’t be able to get away with cheap-shots and any penalty-worthy play. If the refs let the players know that they’re (excuse the pun) on thin ice when it comes to taking penalties, more than likely players would shy away from the dirty and injuring hits that have pervaded the playoffs thus far. For example, this play was NOT penalized:
That play ended with the picture at the top of this article; Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa left the game on a stretcher after Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres left his feet to hit Hossa in the head. A completely illegal hit, yet no penalty was called on the ice (though Torres was suspended indefinitely by the league later on for that hit).
The same goes for the NHL front office. They missed a golden opportunity early in the playoffs when this happened:
At the end of Game 1 in the series between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings, Shea Weber of the Predators grabs the head of Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg and slams it into the boards. The NHL could have, probably should have, made an example out of Weber, suspending him for a few games and slapping him with a stiff fine to boot. Instead, Weber got hit with a $2,500 fine (the NHL called it a “retaliatory action” and essentially told him not to do it again in their ruling), and it seems as though it was a green light for players to be as dirty as they wanted to.
Fix the inconsistency surrounding penalties from the NHL front office. As stated before, somehow Weber slamming Zetterberg’s head into the boards was worth only a $2,500 fine. Yet this unintentional headshot earned Andrew Shaw a three-game suspension:
But somehow…this headshot in Game 4 of the New York Rangers- Ottawa Senators series, went unpenalized and earned Marc Staal no extra discipline from the league.
Again, where’s the consistency? If every violent, intent-to-injure play earned harsh, swift justice, no player would try anything of the sort, with the knowledge that there was a guarantee he’d be fined and suspended. But for whatever reason, the NHL picks and chooses which acts to punish and which to ignore, despite equal levels of severity. For the violence to be quelled, the NHL must start punishing every violent, injuring act. Even a system like this would help:
Headshot, no injury= $10,000 fine, 1 game suspension
Headshot, injury= $20,000 fine, 3 game suspension
Injury= $5,000 fine
No matter how its done, a new justice system is needed in the NHL. The fact remains that if the NHL continues to inconsistently punish violence, and the referees do not keep games in check from the very start, playoff hockey is going to keep getting more dangerous for the players, leaving the NHL at risk of lawsuits as well as potential lost viewership and subsequent lost revenue. Something’s got to change before the game devolves completely into bloodsport.
By Arun Morace