Does anybody remember the suspension NHL sheriff Brendan Shanahan handed out during the preseason to Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski?
Wisniewski was suspended for the remainder of the preseason and the first eight games of the regular season for elbowing Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck.
That sent a shock wave around the league. Shanahan was going to do his part to change player mentality and behavior to make the game safer.
For a time it did.
But as the year progressed and the games became more meaningful, the consistency in NHL justice started to slide. And when the playoffs hit, well, some of the decisions seemed downright puzzling.
Please explain how Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber and Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw weren’t given analogous penalties. One guy got fined for deliberately trying to slam a player’s head into the glass. The other got suspended three games for a head shot on a goalie, that he may or may not have been able to avoid. Both victims didn’t miss a second of game time.
Now, players don’t know where the lines are. Thus, we’ve got a free-for-all in the playoffs.
Combine that environment with a dangerous player like Phoenix Coyotes winger Raffi Torres and you’ve got Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa carted off on a stretcher and his status unknown.
I don’t envy what Shanahan and his department have to do, especially at this time of year. After talking to an NHL source in St. Louis close to Shanahan’s staff, the league’s office of player safety is feeling the heat.
The league made a point coming out of the lockout– specifically Stephen Walkom, who ran NHL officiating and coincidentally was one of the referees for Game 3 at the United Center — that a penalty is a penalty, no matter when it occurs during the game.
The NHL has to establish the same criterion for suspensions and Shanahan has to get back to what he was trying to accomplish when he took the job.
NHL justice should be swift and severe for Torres.