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Why Shanahan didn’t suspend Wolski for Alfredsson head shot

One of the most controversial decisions made by Brendan Shanahan(notes), the NHL's Executive VP of Player Safety, was when the League opted not suspend or fine New York Rangers winger Wojtek Wolski(notes) for his hit to the head of Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson(notes) on Oct. 29.

On the third-period play — watch it here — Wolski appeared to elbow Alfredsson to the face as the Senators player skated through the Rangers' zone. Wolski was given a minor penalty for a hit to the head; the Sens captain left the game with a concussion and is expected to be sidelined through the weekend.

For this, Wolski didn't even earn a hearing from the NHL, let alone supplemental discipline. It was a decision that angered Senators fans, baffled national media and drew the ire of GM Bryan Murray (via QMI):

"Basically what I was told is the player (Wolski) reacted to contact and stiffened up, but didn't do anything out of the ordinary," Murray said Monday in the hotel lobby of the Boston Ritz Carleton. "He just happened to hit Alfredsson in the head."

Clearly, Murray didn't see it that way. "It's my player and I have an emotional attachment to him, so no, I told him I didn't agree," he said. "I felt that the player did go out of his way, a little, to make contact. That it was an elbow involved in the play, and I thought we had determined, a shoulder check, contacted with short vs. taller players and all that type of thing, would be considered an accidental hit, but an elbow to the head would be a suspension."

And yet … it wasn't.

Fans clamored for an explanation video from Shanahan to clarify why Wolski skated on this. On Wednesday, Shanahan offered the next best thing: An appearance on NHL Live where he justified the NHL's decision.

Here's the full interview, which also touches on incidents involving Chris Neil(notes) and Mike Fisher(notes):

From about five minutes in, here's Shanahan on the Alfredsson hit:

"Wolski's not a dirty player, and has no history of being a dirty player. There are collisions that occur on the ice where, unfortunately, one player sees it just prior. On this play here, Wolski has got to get out to this point. You see here, Gaborik, the left winger, has to come all the way to Wolski's point on the right side because Wolski's not there. [Wolski] ran into Alfredsson trying to get there.

"We've seen enough of these now —  and I don't like these — but seen enough of them where when one player sees [the hit] just prior, he tenses up. And sometimes he even leans in, because he's bracing for an impact. When both guys see it, it's two guys tensing up and they bounce off each other and everybody's fine. It's really unfortunate here, when one player doesn't see it and the other guy does.

"Now, if I felt this was intentional, or if it wasn't at the last instant, just prior. [If] I might have felt there was any kind of sneakiness or history of these types of offenses for Wolski, he would have been suspended."

So according to Shanahan, the hit was unavoidable and Alfredsson "tensed up" to put himself in harm's way. Yet, if Wolski wasn't a "clean player", he would have been suspended for it.

(Update: NHL clarifies that Shanny's speaking about Wolski has the "tencer.")

Douglas Flynn of NESN has a problem with this:

The fact that the NHL is trying to crack down on the dangerous head shots and hits from behind is laudable. But unless Shanahan is willing to apply the standard fairly to all players regardless of their roles or reputations, it won't have the desired effect of taking such cheap shots out of the game.

It's a fair argument: Isn't a reckless play still a reckless play no matter how many fighting majors the perpetrator does or does not have?

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