Brendan Shanahan was five months into his stint as the NHL’s vice president of player safety when we asked him how the department’s mission could be described. "We're not in the business of punishing. We're trying to change behavior," he said. Four years later, it’s obvious that the education facet of that mission has been successful. Blindside hits, thanks in no small part to Rule 48, are rare. Hits that target the head significantly are rare – many suspensions seem like they’re on head-shots caused by a combination of factors rather than Matt Cooke-ish head-hunting. Stretchers on the ice, thank the gods, are rare. But let’s be honest: It was true four years ago as it is today that the NHL Department of Player Safety is in the business of punishing. Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik made a stupid, stupid hit on Olli Maatta of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of their series. Maatta missed most of that game, and missed Game 3. Orpik was given a three-game suspension for the hit, and the severity of injuries have always been a factor in the punitive phase. This was much less about changing behavior – it’s Brooks Orpik – than it was an eye-for-an-eye, ‘you lose your defenseman and we lose ours’ ruling. Then Kris Letang was given a one-game suspension for his hit on Marcus Johansson. The NHL said there was no injury on the play, but Letang was banned for a late, high hit that didn’t earn a major for interference in the game. Was this an attempt to change behavior? Was this a punishment that went beyond the ruling on the ice? Was this evening things out after Orpik? As Shanahan said four years ago: "In every suspension, there's two parts: the trial and the sentencing. The injury is not part of the trial, but it's part of the sentencing. I think it reflects how we do justice in the U.S. and Canada. There's the guilty act, which puts you before the court, and the result of your guilty act — depending on the person you committed a crime against — it reflects in the sentencing," he said. "I had a player who asked me, 'If I hit a guy clean, but he gets hurt and I have a history, am I gonna get suspended?' And I said ‘no.’ The presence of an injury does not make a legal hit illegal," said Shanahan. "However, if there is an illegal hit, the lack of injury will not exonerate you. But the presence of an injury will get you more games." That mission statement still holds true today under the current incarnation of the Department of Player Safety, led by former NHL defenseman Stephane Quintal. (Shanahan left in 2014.) “Suspend to the injury” very much determines the severity of the banishments. So as this Capitals vs. Penguins series – with the Orpik hit, the Letang incident and others – pulls the focus off the ice and into the NHL’s player safety department, we figured it was time to take the temperature of DoPS vis-à-vis the fans: What do you want out of the Department of Player Safety? Consistency We imagine this is the most frequent answer, and we’d agree. But the problem with punishment in hockey is that there is room for nuance and for context, and too often the Department of Player Safety is held to a rigid “why this play and why not THIS play?!” standard. Trust us: You don’t want one size fits all suspensions. There is room for debate, there is room for distinction. While it can often lead to perceived inconsistency, it can also lead to overall fairness. Not every hit is the same, nor delivered by the same kind of player. Court of Appeals How often does a game change on a blown penalty call? Of if it’s a minor instead of a major? The Department of Player Safety is, in the minds of many, the Department of Corrections. Refs blow calls. Suspensions make up for those mistakes with a one-game suspension. There were 13 suspensions this season that were two games or less. Or maybe it’s the Department of Making It Right. Whatever the case, fans seem OK with this being a function of its aim. Re-Education We can all agree that the DoPS as a mechanism to change players’ behavior has worked, from the suspensions to those vital videos that explain the suspensions. There are always going to be blurred lines as far as what’s legal and allowed, but for the most part they’ve done a solid job in being like ‘hey, don’t target the head’ and ‘hey, don’t hit that guy there into the boards’ and the players following through. Does a play like the Letang’s one fall into the re-education mission? It’s interference, for sure. But it’s a hit delivered more in the flow of play than, say, the Orpik one on Maatta. And frankly, it’s a hit that Letang will be expected to deliver again by his coaches. Retribution Do you want the Department of Eye-For-An-Eye? Much of the suspension outcry on controversial plays comes from one team seeing their player limp off to the dressing room. There’s a sense, now, that any injury on a borderline play should result in a suspension, and that the severity of the injury should dictate the severity of the suspension. On that latter point, it’s the bed the NHL’s made for itself for structuring the “sentencing” portion of the suspensions so rigidly around injuries. But the NHL can never truly be an eye-for-an-eye league. Head injuries in particular can be more severe than the act that caused them: See the obvious and infamous Joe Thornton hit on David Perron that would have, in this theory, cost Thornton about a season. Also, teams can’t be trusted: If a Grade A player is suspended for the duration of a Grade D player’s recovery time, guess which one is getting a nice vacation for a while if the Grade A player is on a divisional rival? (Puck Daddy reader Paul V. offered this idea over email: “I think all suspensions that hurt a player should be the determined amount which only kicks in after the hurt player returns. So a player gets suspended 3 games. A hurt player misses 5 games. The guilty one misses 5 games plus the 3 games as per this case.”) Culmination This is the way many fans want to see the Department of Player Safety act. Take Letang, again. His slash on Viktor Stalberg in the Penguins’ series against the New York Rangers had many expecting a suspension. The NHL explained it was a series of unfortunate events and not something intentional. And the fans were like, ‘YOU’VE WON THIS ROUND, LETANG, BUT THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!’ And then “next time” arrived in Game 3. The idea that the NHL gives a stern warning on some incidents but that those “strikes” should eventually lead to punishment is something we feel fans have adopted. And finally… Targeting The Evil Ones Early on, Shanahan targeted about a dozen players that seemingly accounted for many of the League’s injurious and illegal hits: Matt Cooke, Zac Rinaldo, Raffi Torres among them. Their suspensions grew lengthy; it’s hard to say any of them have really changed their stripes; and it’s obvious to see why some of them continue to find employment in the NHL, which is because teams love that level of danger and intimidation. We obviously want the NHL to throw the book at repeat offenders. But does that mean there should be leeway for “skill” guys that make suspension-worthy plays? Should everyone be treated equally in order to really hammer home what’s not allowed in the game any longer, or is it a select percentage of players that are doing these things? (And what happens when Duncan Keith, for example, is part of that percentage?) -- All of this leads back to the basic question: What do you want out of the Department of Player Safety? Hit us in the comments or at email@example.com . MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY -- Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK , is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Jack Capuano’s frustration was evident following the New York Islanders’ Game 3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The build up for Brian Boyle’s winning goal was aided by a headshot that went uncalled, he believes. Early in overtime, Boyle took out Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey with a high hit along the boards. Hickey’s intended pass was intercepted by the Lightning and when Tampa transitioned and entered the offensive zone, Hickey was down on the ice as Boyle took possession of the puck as part of a 3-on-2. Hickey was just getting to his skates as Boyle corralled Victor Hedman’s wide shot off the back boards and scored his second of the playoffs to give Tampa a 5-4 win and a 2-1 series lead. The Islanders and their fans were obviously unhappy with the no call. Afterward, Capuano was predicting a coming suspension for Boyle. “It’s a direct shot to the head. [He’s] probably going to get suspended a game,” Capuano said. “The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [The ref] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the type of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game. It’s just too bad that it had to end that way.” Capuano didn’t have any update on Hickey’s after the game. On the other side, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper didn’t think the hit deserved much discussion. “How many hits were in that game? 70, 80 hits?,” Cooper asked. “I would say there was 15 harder than the one Boyle was involved in, and one that was really a hard hit. To me, [Boyle’s] was a mild hit compared to some of the banging that went on in that hockey game.” What Cooper was referencing was Hickey’s big open ice hit on Jonathan Drouin in the second period. The Lightning forward left the game and passed all baseline testing before coming back for the third period. Afterward, Drouin called the hit clean. Boyle said he didn’t feel he was in any danger of hearing from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. “I’ve never had anything like that in my career. At this point I don’t really have any control,” said Boyle. “That was two guys trying to make a hockey play and it was fortunate it worked out for us,” Cooper added. Controversial hits have been a talking point early on in Round 2. We’ve seen two suspensions already following a pair of hits from the last two games in the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals series. Both of those hits were penalized. Boyle’s hit on Hickey, however, went uncalled and it cost the Islanders the game in Capuano’s mind. “Maybe he didn’t see it that way. They’re human too,” Capuano said. “But I’m sure the league is going to take a look at it because I just watched Brooks Orpik and I just watched Kristopher Letang, and those guys play hard. They’re not looking to hurt anybody, it just happens. “I don’t think Boyle’s looking to hurt anybody, maybe he was, I don’t know, but at the end of the day it’s a headshot. It’s clearly a headshot and it determined the outcome of the game. We should have been on the power play.” With two full days off ahead of Game 4 Friday night, the sour taste in Capuano’s mouth from this game won’t be going away any time soon. - - - - - - - Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY:
(As the NCAA hockey season is done, our own Ryan Lambert needed something on which to opine. Say hello to a special Tuesday series from yer boy RL, PUCK LISTS, in which he arbitrarily lists hockey things.) 8. Any one of several of the guys on the team, Nashville Predators I don't particularly care if the Predators win the Cup except to say that they are ostensibly the team I want to see do the best in general. Any one guy who wins it, sure, that's fine. Whatever. Go Preds and all that. But there are a list of guys on that team I definitively do not want to see win the Cup. Mega-creep Mike Ribeiro is probably Nos. 1-65 on the list. I also kinda don't want to have to hear how Shea Weber is one of the league's great defensemen (he is absolutely not) when and if he wins a Cup. And James Neal, given all the elbowing and so on, probably doesn't deserve it. It would be pretty cool if Ryan Johansen won it, though. Mainly because it would be funny to see a player as maligned as he has been for the last couple years in Columbus get out of that organization and immediately be rewarded for doing so. Poor Seth Jones, etc., but Johansen is a legitimately very good player who couldn't have succeeded in Columbus if he'd been Connor McDavid. Other guys who are good and nice and I like them: Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Colin Wilson. Bonus shoutout for backup goalie Carter Hutton, who is a very nice guy and I would like to see him win as well. Of course also, there's basically no chance the Predators win the Cup. So, okay. But they might. It's a statistical possibility. 7. Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues It seems like it's literally impossible, but it is in fact 100 percent true that this is the first time ever Jay Bouwmeester has been out of the first round. He's played 990 regular-season games, and before this year, only had 18 games to his credit in the playoffs. None of them came before 2013. Bonkers. While you never want to compare someone to a guy like Ray Bourque or Dave Andreychuk, who basically had to wait forever to win, Bouwmeester and former teammate Jarome Iginla are probably the two closest things we have in today's NHL. And at least Iginla went to a Cup Final in 2004. Bouwmeester hadn't played past Game 6 of the first round. If it hadn't been for the lockout-shortened season that pushed the playoffs back, he wouldn't have ever played NHL hockey in May. This is one of those “long-time futility” things, and there aren't really too many older guys with the club who are even in this neighborhood. Only Steve Ott and Scottie Upshall are both marginally older than Bouwmeester, but neither are even close to pushing 1,000 games like he is. For that reason, and because he seems like a perfectly nice fellow, it would be cool if Jay Bouwmeester won a Stanley Cup. 6. John Tavares, New York Islanders Mainly this is because New York Rangers fans are still insufferable about 1994. God, that's when Dylan McIlrath was two years old, and he's barely even an everyday NHL player right now. Like honestly, is there any reason at all beyond, “They are in New York,” that a team spending a bazillion dollars to field an All-Star lineup is in any way a notable achievement in the league? It took them seven games to beat a team on which Geoff Courtnall was the second leading scorer! The way everyone still talks about that team is shameless. They retired Adam Graves's number. No shame at all. Anyway, if John Tavares is a monster in the playoffs and brings a Cup to Brooklyn, having Islanders fans lord that over Ranger fans — especially after the last few years of the Rangers getting close — is going to be awesome for a decade-plus. Tavares could become like Derek Jeter in New York. It would be that meaningful. 5. Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars This is the first of several “This loser is never gonna amount to anything!” storylines. The way the media chased him out of Edmonton was pathetic. “Last guy on the ice every day, first guy off.” Yeah well there's always been plenty of reason to doubt that was the case, and more to the point, this guy is still awesome at some of the things he has always been awesome at. He's never gonna score like he did in the mid-2000s for the Oilers, but dude still gets through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick like there's not even a defense there. He can still facilitate from the halfwall. He's a player. And cramming it down the Edmonton media's collective throats would be wonderful. 4. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning Stamkos has been close a few times, including last year, but he's a guy I just feel bad for sometimes. Broken leg when he had 25 goals in 37 games, blood clots this year, being demoted to the wing and off the top line, and so on. He's had some hard luck. And I'd really like to see him come back in these playoffs and win one before the band breaks up and he's off to Toronto. Not that being a Leaf is going to serve him badly given what they have coming up, but this is his last best chance to lock in a Cup for sure.