March 15, 2010
Colin Campbell's decision to suspend Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin(notes) for two games, after his shove from behind on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell(notes) on Sunday, is understandable by NHL logic.
It's motivated by two of the more repellent aspects of the NHL Wheel of Justice: deterrence and penalizing the injury rather than the action.
If Campbell doesn't break his clavicle and wasn't going to miss the rest of the regular season into the playoffs, there's no suspension. This is a philosophical debate: I don't believe legislating to the injury is a wise decision because the means are always going to be more important to me than the ends.
Which is to say intent to injure should be paramount in these decisions rather than the injuries suffered. If we're going down that road, why not just adopt the draconian "eye for an eye"/"suspension equals injury time out of lineup" model some lobby for every season?
Ovechkin made a bad decision and a terrible thing happened to Campbell. While the nature of the plays makes this an apples-to-oranges situation: Are you telling me Ovechkin had more intent to injure Campbell than Matt Cooke(notes) did to injure Marc Savard(notes)? Is this really the image the NHL wants to portray?
The other aspect of this suspension is likely deterrence, in the sense that the NHL's meal ticket is endangering opponents and damaging his brand.
What good does it do the league to have Ovechkin take himself out of a nationally televised game, as the ratings may have shown? What good does it do when more fans are talking about a shove into the boards than the goal-scoring race on a Monday morning? Perhaps, based on the NHL's action, two games and the loss of $232,645.40 in salary makes the message clearer.
There was a certain "lesson learned" aspect of the last Ovechkin suspension for the knee-on-knee on Tim Gleason(notes). Beyond the Campbell injury, that's at play in this decision, too: Consider the NHL choosing to use the word "reckless" to describe the hit in its press release; now where have we heard that before?
Ovechkin isn't just in the system anymore: He's a repeat offender. The NHL is taking a stand now against what it feels is the misbehavior of a star player.
If you believe Ovechkin is playing out of control and needs some time out in the corner, then two games was warranted. If you believe the punishment should fit the injury, then two games may not be enough.
If you believe, as we do, that a dumb shove in the back near the end boards with unfortunate circumstances isn't the stuff suspensions are made of -- and that you should suspend to the act, not the result -- then the NHL just whiffed on another disciplinary decision.
If only Ovechkin had the good sense to place Campbell in a Scorpion Death Lock along the boards like Steve Downie, he might have avoided suspension. But then Sidney Crosby(notes) came back and played, right? Suspensions are only for the injurious, not the ones with intentions to injure.
UPDATE: Via Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals Insider, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau makes some interesting points that are then undercut by saying Ovechkin was suspended for being too strong:
"If you look at it, [Campbell's] skates were parallel to the net. Once Campbell dishes it off, he knows Alex is there. He doesn't hit him, he pushes him. As he's going, it looked to me like [Campbell's] left leg stumbled and he almost toe-picked the ice. He's one of the greatest skaters in the game. He's stayed healthy because he's able to avoid this. I'm sure he thought he was going to spin off it. ...
"The [refs] waited and waited. They didn't want to make the call. The last thing [referee] Dan O'Halloran wanted to do was kick Alex Ovechkin out on an NBC game. But he thought in his mind that, 'If this guy is hurt, I have to give him a five-minute major.' ...
"Alex pushed [Campbell]. He pushed him. If he doesn't fall awkwardly into the boards, a) Is it a penalty? b) Are we having this discussion? ... Alex is so much stronger than everyone else. So we're penalizing him for being strong. ...
While there were mitigating circumstances on the hit, it's still a shove in the numbers as a player skates near the end boards. It's a classic boarding call, and Boudreau seems to be arguing otherwise.
But the real howler: Ovechkin is "penalized" for being "so much stronger than everyone else."
Whoa, forget the NHL rulebook: The Capitals should be worried that Ovechkin isn't in compliance with the Mutant Registration Act. His powers are too awesome! Everyone take cover!
We don’t support the suspension either, but c’mon …