This season, the league experienced an incredible run of controversial incidents around the time of late October. There was much discussion and debate, and a few suspensions. Inevitably things cooled down a little, but everyone still knew that there would be times later in the season when the league would be called upon to send out not only the right message for what is suspendable, but a clear message of what is acceptable. This week the topic is hot again, mainly thanks to Alex Ovechkin.
You could spend years analyzing what is a dirty or clean hit, whether there is an intent to hurt, whether the victim could have done more… but I want to concentrate on the suspensions that follow the plays. I just don’t see how players are supposed to know what they will get suspended for and what they won’t. I don’t think it will ever be so clear-cut that we will be able to watch a hit unfold and trust that the league will give out a five-game ban, but the league could definitely be doing more without damaging the game in the process.
It seems that there has been only one consistent trend with the league’s assigning of suspensions this season- the inconsistency. No better example than the two knee-on-knees that have happened in the league recently. You can say that they are different situations but the Georges Laraque run at Niklas Kronwall was no-doubt a similiar collision to that of Alexander Ovechkin on Tim Gleason. Laraque gets five-games for his actions, Ovechkin gets two. Obviously, it doesn’t add up. I think the league should just scrap the two-game suspension. When you’re talking about concussions or potential leg-breakers from those knee-on-knees or other dangerous or dirty plays, missing games just seems so meaningless. I understand how the repeat offending theory could be seen as useful, but a dirty hit is a dirty hit, so someone with a clean record should still get a five-game suspension. That’s what I think anyway.
I don’t think that suspensions help, or will help certain players clean up their game, even if it was a season long suspension. When you extend your leg, it’s premeditated. If that’s the case, than that’s sad, but you still have to do what you can- that being the league to say that this kind of hockey shouldn’t be present in the NHL. You just don’t feel that kind of conviction from the top at all, it’s not decisive, it doesn’t assure confidence for anyone. I felt, anyway, that the league suspended Ovechkin not firstly because it was the right thing to do, but because they had to. The complete opposite to the OHL incident a month ago where commissioner David Branch suspended Erie Otters forward Michael Liambas for the rest of season after a late hit on the boards. I disagree with the length of the suspension, mainly because it is junior hockey and that time is so valuable. However, it was an important moment in that the league was condemning this kind of behaviour. You can’t eliminate it completely but if you can do something in your power to try to make the sport safer, you do it, and this would not be changing the league for the worse.
I’m not saying harder suspensions would automatically make hockey safer, but it would be a strong step towards some kind of example, rather than the weak stance the league is showing at the moment. Hopefully it won’t take a big injury from a dirty hit for this to be realized and change to come.