April 19, 2011
The NHL's supplementary discipline process was at work once again this morning as the League announced (via Bob McKenzie Tweets) that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz(notes) and Steve Downie(notes) of the Tampa Bay Lightning have been suspended one game each for separate hits in last night's Game 3 of their series.
First, the two hits that caused a spinning of the Wheel of Justice this morning:
The Kunitz elbow to the back of Simon Gagne's(notes) head was an easy call. Instead of dishing out a body check, Kunitz said this morning he tried to get Gagne's shoulder, but landed the elbow on his head. Gagne was not injured on the play and that definitely played a part in why Kunitz will miss only Game 4 on Wednesday night.
If you'll remember back in September of 2007, Downie was given a 20-game ban for hit similar to what he laid on Ben Lovejoy(notes) last night. The difference here? Lovejoy was not stretchered off the ice like Dean McAmmond(notes) was during that preseason game four years ago.
Injury, or the lack of in these two incidents, plays such a large factor in these decisions as NHL VP of Hockey Ops Colin Campbell said during a conference call immediately after the Downie decision in 2007:
Q. How big of a factor is injury as far as how much discipline does come out after that?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Injury is important. Last year Chris Pronger(notes) throws an elbow and doesn't make contact, he gets nothing. Chris Pronger throws an elbow and makes contact with the head, it's a two minute penalty. Because there's a two minute penalty for elbowing, if you elbow a player in the head, the shoulder, the arm, the rear end. If he causes an injury that, player has to be accountable for the injury he causes.
So that certainly is a key factor, and we've made that point. If you cause an injury, get ready, you could be susceptible to a suspension and a long suspension.
The Downie suspension is also a bit of a shocker after Raffi Torres(notes) was let off after his hit on Brent Seabrook(notes) Sunday night. Weren't we told that hits in the "ThunderDome" area behind the net are legal?
As we continue to see more and more dangerous hits, specifically with the head involved, it's pretty obvious the players aren't getting the message. Of course, why would they with such weak or no suspensions at all in certain cases? Lay a borderline hit on a guy and your punishment won't be severe as long as you're not a repeat offender.
Per the NHL CBA, the maximum player fine is a paltry $2,500, so the threat of lost wages won't scare players, especially in the playoffs considering final paychecks were received before the end of the regular season.
Will we see when the GMs meet again during the Stanley Cup final in June an emphasis on harsher penalties/discipline for these types of dangerous hits? Let's hope so because as we're seeing, they aren't going anyway any time soon.
UPDATE: Here are Campbell's comments on the two suspensions:
"Downie left his feet and launched himself at the head of his opponent and he came from a considerable distance, with speed and force, to deliver the check," said NHL Senior Executive Vice President Colin Campbell.
"Kunitz delivered an elbow directly to the head of his opponent," said Campbell.