James Neal didn’t deserve a suspension for his cross-check to the head of Luke Glendening of the Detroit Red Wings last week, an act that earned the Pittsburgh Penguins forward a $5,000 fine. There was no injury, and the impact of his stick wasn’t exactly potent.
That said … there was something that irked us about the incident. It’s that Neal is starting to reach Raffi Torres levels of “doesn’t get it,” to the point where the NHL might have to issue a mandatory anatomy lesson. (“OK James, the big round thing under the hair, the holds your eyes and mouth in place? That’s the head, got it?”)
There was that head-hunting exhibition he had against the Flyers in the 2012 playoffs. And when he kneed Brad Marchand’s head in Dec. 2013. And other incidents during his time with the Dallas Stars and the Penguins when he could have been hit with supplemental discipline but wasn’t.
Underscoring the “doesn’t get it” notion: That Neal has battled through his own concussions, and plays on the same team as Sidney Crosby, who’s still the poster boy for them in the NHL.
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart got us thinking about Neal again with an incendiary column on HockeyBuzz* that calls out Neal for his head-hunting and his embellishment:
I have also seen enough of his play to know something else: James Neal is not my type of hockey player. He has been involved in multiple incidents, showing reckless disregard for the safety of fellow players. Furthermore, he’s a player who has acquired the reputation for being a diver.
Does Neal want to be known for the points he accumulates or as someone who can't be trusted by his own team? More and more, people don't think of Neal first and foremost as a goal-scorer. You know how I think of him? I think of Neal as a player who has already been suspended three times in his career for dirty hits. That includes a five-game suspension earlier this season for a kneeing incident. Additionally, between his years in Dallas and Pittsburgh, he has previously been involved in least other three potentially suspendable incidents with his stick where he was fined and/or warned by the League.
He said NHL inaction on Neal is “why I say that the NHL Rule Book is a house of cards built on a foundation of sand. James Neal could be the poster child for what is wrong with the NHL discipline system as steered by Brendan Shanahan and, before him, the doubtable … um, redoubtable… Colin Campbell.”
We saw some fans call out the League for going soft with Neal’s punishment last week. Again, we didn’t see it as an act that necessitated a suspension. But one of the planks in the Dept. of Player Safety’s platform since Shanahan took the job is to target and reeducate the repeat offenders in this League that repeatedly go after opponents’ heads.
At this point, Neal’s in that category.
* We’re fans of Paul Stewart. He appeared on the old Puck Daddy Radio program, and he’s a source of honesty and insight. So that trumps the fact that he’s on HockeyBuzz, which remains a site with a few good sources amidst the compost.