Greg Wyshynski

Thanks to NHL's disciplinary system, everything is a suspension

Greg Wyshynski
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That Mike Keenan was complaining about a non-call after last night's Calgary Flames victory over the Chicago Blackhawks wasn't unusual; it's the playoffs, which means the dude has more whine than Napa and Sonoma combined in postgame pressers.

That the NHL's disciplinary decisions this postseason have given Keenan all the supporting evidence he needs to demand a suspension ... well, that's the problem.

In last night's Game 3 win for the Flames, Chicago's Adam Burish skated over to former teammate Rene Bourque and cross-checked him to the head with less than a minute to go in the game. Burish broke his stick in the process; Bourque retaliated, and both players received roughing calls and game-misconduct penalties at 19:47 of the third.

Keenan said the play had intent to injure after the game, according to Flames Insider:

"I'm disappointed that they weren't given a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure," Keenan said. "A cross-check to the face where (Adam) Burish broke his stick over his face. He suffered an injury because of that cross-check to the face. We had a meeting, the managers and coaches about those types of tactics late in games. I have no idea how the referees could miss it. It was blatant and it was a cross-check to the face to the point where a man broke his stick over his face."

Blackhawks writer Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald called Keenan's claims hypocritical:

It's beautiful how poor Mike claims his player is a victim when the Flames have been allowed to get away with one cross-check after another after whistles when goalie Miikka Kiprusoff makes a save. Even when there isn't a Hawk near the goalie, it's Vandermeer, Aucoin, Pardy or Phaneuf cross-checking or giving a face wash to Havlat, Toews or Sharp.

That's without even mentioning Mike Cammalleri's shot to the face of Martin Havlat off the faceoff earlier in the series.

This is where we are in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to the NHL's continued inconsistent sense of justice. Coming up, a look at the violent acts that did and did not warrant additional punishment, and the NHL's hackneyed justification for both decisions.

Let's begin with the Burish hit on Bourque last night, late in the game and with a stick:

Could Burish's intent be any clearer? Combine that with the fact that it happened at the end of the game, and there's simply no way he doesn't earn a suspension, right?

We know this because Daniel Carcillo of the Philadelphia Flyers was suspended for one game after punching Max Talbot of the Pittsburgh Penguins on a late-game faceoff.

NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell said that "message sending" is a suspension-level offense:

"With six seconds left, you have a player who never kills penalties, a player who never takes faceoffs, coming out on a five-on-three (manpower disadvantage) and doing what he did - a repeat offender. So there are a number of criteria there that satisfy doing what we had to do ... I don't want to filter everything out of the game. But we want to take the dumb stuff out of the game."

Then again ... was Burish sending a message? Was he a goon out there on the ice to take out a player who scored a critical goal against the Blackhawks? Was this just a case of a violent, dangerous hit to the head?

If you take out the timing of it, then you have to decide whether intent and endangerment warrant a suspension. And that's where the NHL has completely failed this offseason. Because this Milan Lucic glove/stick/whatever to the head of Maxime Lapierre earned the Boston Bruins winger a one-game suspension ...

... but this Cammalleri shot on Havlat earned nothing:

Again, wrap your brain around this logic from the NHL. Colin Campbell on Lucic, on a must-see interview with HNIC:

"We felt it was a reckless and careless use of the stick. Milan was a first-time offender. It was difficult ... it was a playoff game. The player came to Milan in the situation. We felt the glove made first contact, but the stick was there as well, and we felt it was an unnecessary action with the stick towards the head."

Colin Campbell from the Situation Room, on Cammalleri:

"When Cammalleri hit Havlat, there was a lot of risk to doing that. He took a two-minute penalty in a game where there could have been ramifications for doing that. But there are no ramifications when you're losing 4-1 with six seconds left."

OK, so in summary:

You can hit a guy in the head with your glove/stick as long as you're not a registered goon with the NHL and there isn't less than five minutes left in the game. Because, you see, no matter your intent to take a cheap shot at someone's head, the two-minute minor you receive with the game still in question is punishment enough.

At the very least, kudos to the NHL for getting away from the "how injured was a offended party" paradigm for suspensions ...

Of the videos here, are any of them suspension-level offenses? Do any rise to the violence of an open-ice elbow? A injurious hit from behind? Anything that earned a suspension in the past?

Of course not. Carcillo and Lucic deserved penalties, but not the gate for a game. The NHL wants to be proactive, sure; but there's something to be said for the punishment fitting the crime, and what was the crime here? Bad timing, according to Campbell.

Now what about Burish?

• Burish's actions took place with less than five minutes left in a game that was already decided. What was he doing out there anyway?

• Burish recklessly used his stick, breaking it in an attempted head shot.

• Burish was almost suspended earlier this season for leaving the bench during a fight; does that count as a repeat offense?

So Keenan cries, Keenan whines ... but based on what the NHL has told us this postseason, Keenan's right that there should be heavier punishment on Burish than the penalties he received.

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