September 30, 2011
The Shanahammer has been dropped again, as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith(notes) was suspended for the rest of the preseason and five regular-season games for his illegal hit to the head of Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith(notes) on Wednesday.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Brendan Smith will forfeit $23,648.65. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund. Keep in mind this is a true rookie in the NHL. That's a bit of a hit.
This one was an interesting call for Shanahan, as the argument could be made that Ben Smith's cut to the goal altered the hit — ye olde "prone position" argument that Mike Babcock made in saying, "Is there any responsibility on the puck carrier, toe-dragging, sliding sideways, to look after himself?"
But it could also be argued, that Smith stuck out his arm after being beat and kabong'd Smith.
As The Video Shows (tm, Shanahan), the NHL is making the argument that Ben Smith did shift his body before the hit but that his head didn't move. Hence, he didn't put himself in a prone position for the hit to the head, which would have been delivered anyway.
With his five regular-season game ban for Smith, NHL Executive VP of Players Safety and Infomercials Brendan Shanahan(notes) has banished eight players in the preseason. But it's clear one type of foul means more than the others — head shots.
Four of them have received suspensions of five or more regular-season games: Jody Shelley(notes) for boarding, thanks to a criminal history longer than some supporting characters on "The Wire"; Jean-Francois Jacques(notes) for skating off the bench to start a fight; and suspensions to Smith of a head-shot on Ben Smith of the Chicago Blackhawks and James Wisniewski(notes) (8 games) for a head-shot on Cal Clutterbuck(notes) of the Minnesota Wild after the period had ended.
The takeaway from this, besides the fact that there's a Shanahan Multiplier to any suspension that would have emerged from Colin Campbell's cluttered desk:
Head shots matter more.
Brendan Smith is a rookie. He has no priors. He's not considered a head hunter. But he hit Smith in the head, and Smith may have received a concussion. The mandate from the moment the NHL began to re-evaluate its player safety approach has been concussions, concussions, concussions.
Rule 48 was about concussions, and the revamp of that rule since last season was about Sidney Crosby's(notes) concussion. This summer's trio of tragedies involving players who frequently fought in the NHL — flimsily connected as they are — added more attention to brain injuries in hockey.
On Wednesday, after the hit and before the ruling, Shanahan re-released the player safety video he and Mathieu Schneider hosted that that given to the players during camp. It explicitly points out the "right" way to hit in the NHL in 2011: Without the head being the principle point of contact, going to the body first.
This wasn't a coincidence. Neither was a 5-game suspension to a guy who hasn't seen a second of NHL ice time yet.
The days of hits to the head — be it head-hunting or just a way to separate man from puck — are done. Watching a Scott Stevens highlight reel will be like peeking into an alternate timeline for the NHL; it's a world that doesn't exist any longer, for better or worse.