Wed Oct 13 11:15am EDT
Tuesday it was announced that Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes) was given a two-game suspension for a hit from behind on Jason Pominville(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres. Some believed he deserved to have an example made of him. Some believed he deserved nothing.
We believe this might just be the NHL's most deviously appropriate suspension, because we believe the league's disciplinarians can actually read the schedule.
Despite being in different conferences, the Blackhawks and Sabres face each other again on Saturday night in the Windy City. Hjalmarsson will miss Wednesday night's game vs. the Nashville Predators and Friday night's game at the Columbus Blue Jackets and ... well, what do you know? He's back on Saturday against the Sabres.
From Sabres Edge and Mike Harrington, who disagreed with the lack of severity in the suspension:
So is the league giving Buffalo carte blanche to create mayhem in retaliation? Doubt it. Patrick Kaleta(notes) already threatened some after practice Tuesday. But if he does something, he's not getting two games. Book it. Stinks of the warning system in baseball: You hit my guy, you get a warning, I hit yours and I get ejected and suspended.
The Sabres and Hawks won't play for at least another year, perhaps longer. You make it a three-game ban and you basically cut way back on the mayhem potential Saturday.
Wait ... that would be a good thing? Excuse the Tyler Durden-esque lust for the chaotic, but a little mayhem goes a long way in trying to prevent this sort of thing from occurring again.
We bitch and moan at every suspension in this league, at every instance of the players not being able to "police themselves" because of NHL rules or officiating interference. And now, since the NHL decided to hand out two games before Hjalmarsson steps back on the ice against the Sabres, we're going to (a) wring hands over perceived "mayhem" looming and (b) assume that retribution is going to warrant supplemental discipline?
"It'll get taken care of either with the league," Sabres right wing Patrick Kaleta said before the decision was announced, "or I think we play them Saturday, so we'll make a point that you can't be taking hits like that against one of our leaders and one of the better players on our team."
That's hockey. You get what's coming to you. The league had its say and now it's time for the players to have theirs if they choose to. Buffalo radio host Nick Mendola nails it:
It might feel grimy, but it's no coincidence that Colin Campbell suspended Hjalmarsson just long enough to see the business end of the Sabres/Hawks series on Saturday. "The Sheriff" had almost 1,600 PIM in the NHL and appreciates old school justice. If you want to say that's sad, fine, but it's sad but true.
Just like Brian Campbell(notes) eventually had to fight R.J. Umberger(notes), Hjalmarsson will have to match up for his transgression at the United Center on Saturday evening. The Sheriff has opened that game up to mob justice, and the Sabres are going to get all Corleone if he doesn't issue a stiff warning.
If he does warn the team, it would ring quite hollow in Buffalo and God forbid Saturday's the day someone gets really hurt. Campbell and the league will reap what they've sown in short-sightedness.
The other facet of this -- the part we're not supposed to talk about around our basketball fan friends -- is that Saturday night's rematch just got about 1000 percent more interesting to the casual hockey fan firing his or her Center Ice up for the evening or tuning in locally.
The possibility of violence can sometimes be as effective a marketing tool as an actual incident. It's something the NHL doesn't actively promote ... but the timing of this Hjalmarsson suspension makes us wonder if there isn't a winking acceptance in this case.