September 26, 2011
The NHL's decision to suspend Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski(notes) for the rest of the preseason and eight regular-season games for his hit to the head of Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck(notes) was yet another emphatic statement from NHL Player Safety VP Brendan Shanahan(notes).
It also provided further insight into his approach as the NHL's suspension czar, and which player should be really watching themselves this season.
Unlike Shanahan's previous preseason suspensions, this one was a case of clear retaliation: Wisniewski felt Clutterbuck took a run at his defense partner Fedor Tyutin(notes), and this was his response.
It was also the second case involving a violation of Rule 48, which bans all primary contact with an opponent's head. The first, involving Brad Boyes(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres, resulted in a ban of only two preseason games. But that happened during the course of play; this one happened after the period ended. Talk about intent ...
Here's Shanahan on Wisniewski, who has been suspended four times since March 2008.
Coming up, full text of the ruling, the financial hit for the suspended player, the Wiz speaks and what this all means about Brendan Shanahan's judgment.
From the NHL:
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has been suspended for the remainder of the preseason and for eight regular-season games and will forfeit $536,585.36 for an illegal check to the head of Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck during a preseason game on September 23, NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan announced today.
Wisniewski, who was suspended last season, is classified as a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Accordingly, he forfeits his salary based on the number of games in the season (82), rather than the number of days (185). The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
Following the horn that ended the third period, Wisniewski delivered a blow that targeted Clutterbuck's head and made it the principal point of contact. Wisniewski was assessed a minor penalty for illegal check to the head.
For the video impaired, the Shanahan ruling states:
"After the horn had clearly sounded, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski delivered an illegal hit to the head of Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck. The video shows Wisniewski intentionally targets Clutterbuck's head and makes it the principal point of contact. This hit is in direct violation of the illegal check to the head rule, which states: 'A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.'
"Since Clutterbuck never has the puck and time has expired, he should have no reason to believe he'd be check at this moment and is therefore defenseless.
"Earlier on this shift, Clutterbuck threw a check on Wisniewski's defensive partner. Wisniewski engaged in defense of his own teammate by knocking Clutterbuck down to the ice. While that may have led Wisniewski to believe he had to defend himself, that was not a justification for intentionally hitting a player in the head. If Wisniewski feels threatened, he must choose a different way to defend himself.
"In my review of the video, Clutterbuck shows no intent to hit Wisniewski at this moment.
"Wisniewski's suspension history weighed heavily into my decision, as well as the fact that he intentionally targeted a defenseless player when the play had ended."
Please recall the Wiz getting eight games back in March 2010 for a charging call on Brent Seabrook(notes); he was suspended for two games in Oct. 2009 for a hit on Shane Doan; and, of course, for pantomiming fellatio as a member of the New York Islanders in Oct. 2010.
The Wiz talked about the hit after the game, via the Columbus Dispatch:
"That's my partner, the guy I'm going to play with the next six years here," Wisniewski said. "With him getting run at the end of the game, I was going over there to let (Clutterbuck) know we'll stick up for each other and that's not going to be tolerated.
"After the horn blew, I saw him come back at me and I protected myself. He knew what he was doing and he kind of embellished it, drew the penalty. He did his job, and I look like the idiot."
A couple of thoughts on Sheriff Shanahan after another busy day:
• Repeat offenders are toast under Shanny. Shelley and Wisniewski received sizable suspensions, and one of the primary justifications were their rap sheets. (Even if it's a complete and total farce that Wisniewski's oral sex reference could be in the same conversation as a hit to the skull.) Seriously, Trevor Gillies(notes) might be looking at the chair if he steps out of line again.
• Wisniewski claimed it was self-defense; Shanahan went into detail on why he didn't believe it. However, there wasn't a word said about embellishment, which was another claim made by Wisniewski. Maybe since this wasn't a case of a player putting himself in a "prone position" that doesn't factor into the decision. But since we have a League of floppers and divers, Shanahan will have to address this at some point.
(By the way, if you want some comedy, check out Colin Campbell's discussion on a Sergei Gonchar hit on Clutterbuck from 2010; it'll make you appreciate Shanahan even more.)
• The last week for Brendan Shanahan has been like the first year of a Supreme Court Justice's tenure. We're starting to see the trends, the fixations, the ramifications. We still don't know how he handles a first-time offense by a top-line player, but we certainly know the Shanahammer drops hard on repeat perps with intent to injure.
And if you're someone hoping the Wheel of Justice has been put in mothballs, that's a positive development.