December 31, 2011
If you've yet to see it, take a quick peek at the "altercation" from Friday night's tilt between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers that, as the NHL announced Saturday afternoon, has drawn matching $2500 fines for Michael Del Zotto and Tomas Kopecky .
The offenses? A crosscheck to the back of the head courtesy Del Zotto, followed by a blatant sucker punch to the side of the head courtesy Kopecky. Of course, I'm feeling like "courtesy" might not be the right word here.
Maybe it's just me, but I sense very little courtesy.
Now, I'm not the sheriff. And if Brendan Shanahan came to my door today and offered me the badge, I'd turn him down, because since a large portion of my job currently involves sitting in an office and reacting to his job, I don't think I'd enjoy a vocation trade.
He's the last guy I'd want to Malkovich. If the two of us were ever Freaky-Friday'd, I'd kill myself.
But seriously, the fact that Kopecky drew a fine for this -- and worse, the same damn fine that Del Zotto got -- is ridiculous. Sure, you deserve to have your bell rung if you crosscheck a guy in the back of the head. But a sucker punch is something else entirely.
Rangers coach John Tortorella said Kopecky hit Del Zotto with a, "sucker punch. He got what he deserved. That's what pisses me off about this game is just sometimes there's no honor. I wish the players would police themselves instead of too many rules in that rulebook. That's bad. I know Michael high-sticked him, they were jostling and stuff like that but you don't sucker-punch a guy. So he got what he deserved."
I'll agree with Tortorella that a sucker punch necessitates a particular response. However, in my mind, it needs to come from the league office, not at the hands of another player. As much as I didn't care for the last disciplinarian, at least he understood that.
Was this incident erased from existence along with the Thrashers? It's pretty similar, no?
Granted, Armstrong didn't start the altercation with some high stickwork, but I couldn't care less about that. Again: a sucker punch is a sucker punch, and you discipline sucker punches.
When you don't, well, Rupp taking matters into his own hands by literally snatching Kopecky out of the hands of league officials is a pretty good illustration of what happens. And sometimes guys don't skate away from crap like that.
For the record, I'm pretty sure that crap deserves another look as well. If Shanny is simple going to dole out $2500 fines to all involved on his way to the New Year's Ball, Rupp is deserving of one too.
Speaking of quick fines that are complete and utter nonsense, Raffi Torres has also been "fined the maximum amount", a phrase synonymous with "slapped on the wrist" for his elbow to the head of Jan Hejda:
And again I have to throw my hands in the air and wave them around like Shanny just don't care. This is a blatant to the elbow to the head from the repeatingest of repeat offenders.
Torres earned a four-game suspension for a hit on Jordan Eberle just last April, and he escaped supplementary discipline for his concussion-inducing hit on Brent Seabrook less than a month later only after the NHL iterated their alternative notion of what goes on behind the net.
And frankly, having watched Torres play over 100 games in Vancouver last season, by the standards Shanahan has set this year, the winger would have accrued a healthy number of fines, at the very least. He's not a malicious player, but he's a reckless player, especially considering the hitter's body he's been blessed with. It is, unfortunately, not paired with a hitter's common sense.
Take another look at the hit. It's avoidable with even an ounce of thought. Torres comes from a long distance away, he leads with his elbow, and contact is to the head. You could argue that Hejda puts himself in a prone position after losing his balance making the pass and dropping to his knees, but Torres still has plenty of time and space to react to that and he doesn't.
This is an easy call, especially by the precedents Shanahan has established this year. But he got it wrong.
I've been blogging here for four months now, and since I live on the West Coast, a lot of these questionable hits have fallen to me to share with you guys. In this time, one thing has become perfectly clear: I can't predict Shanahan. At all.
For every precedent he sets, there's a hit that breaks that precedent. For every fine he delivers, there's a similar hit that saw more or less discipline. Sure, it's a tough job, especially since there's controversial contact seemingly every night in this league, but Shanahan is beginning to baffle.
Maybe he's tired. Maybe he's rushing his decisions. Maybe he's not keeping thorough enough record of his previous decisions. Or maybe he was simply unprepared for the staggering amount of punishable offenses the first leg of the season would yield. But either way, the reign of Shanahan is beginning to look a lot like the last guy's: unclear, unpredictable, and infuriatingly inconsistent.
If Friday's incident draws fines for Kopecky and Del Zotto and nothing for Rupp, and if Torres doesn't see at least a game's worth of missed pay for a blatant elbow, then I fear I have no choice but to declare the NHL's wheel of justice back open for business.