October 10, 2011
Minnesota Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes) appealed his two-game suspension for a high-sticking infraction against Matt Calvert(notes) of the Columbus Blue Jackets; and unfortunately for those seeking a reversal, denial ain't just a river in Egypt, as they say.
The rejected appeal was ultimately and entirely symbolic — there's a better chance the Rangers and Flyers will play the Winter Classic in lingerie than Gary Bettman usurping the authority of the Department of Player Safety one month into Brendan Shanahan's(notes) tenure.
This was the hockey equivalent of sending a letter to the President about fixing a pothole near your driveway.
But in the last 24 hours, Bouchard and his agent Allan Walsh have accomplished something significant: They've drawn attention to an injustice by the NHL's supplemental discipline process and to the fact that Shanahan isn't infallible, lest anyone dazzled by his early track record believe that to be the case.
If you didn't see the Shanahammer swing on Sunday night, here's the explanation:
As the video shows, Calvert initiated contact. Bouchard "chops across his body" while facing Calvert, and Calvert's stick lifted Bouchard's lumber from its intended target (the hands) to his face, knocking out teeth and earning Bouchard a 4-minute penalty.
Shanahan's contention is that Bouchard is ultimately responsible for his stick, and that slashing Calvert in the first place is what led to this injury. "His reckless swing, regardless of where it was intended, did in fact cause an injury to an opponent," said Shanahan.
This ruling led Bouchard's agent Allan Walsh to opine the following to the Star Tribune:
What message is Brendan Shanahan sending with this unwarranted suspension? All perennial Lady Byng candidates should now be on notice that when an opponent high sticks himself in the mouth, he can expect a minimum suspension of 2 regular season NHL games. This result is a shameful farce for the League.
All in all, these 20 minute disciplinary hearings are nothing more than kangaroo courts. More League effort goes into writing scripts and producing slick video's than in getting to the real facts of what occurred on the ice. It's an inherent conflict of interest for an employee of the NHL to be conducting these hearings and imposing suspensions on players. It's time for a neutral 3rd party not associated with the league or the players to take over supplementary discipline as this system clearly does not work."
There are enough accusations there for another season of "The X-Files" — the notion that the video productions are somehow unconnected to analyzing the incidents is a stretch — but his initial point is right: This was an errant high stick off a slash that caused an injury, and the NHL has now deemed that a player, no matter his previous record, should be given a 2-game suspension for it. Bad precedents beget bad laws, and this is a bad precedent.
What's the suspension supposed to deter here? Slashes to the gloves that accidentally become slashes to the face because of an opponent's actions? Future acts of violence by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, a.k.a. The Headhunter of Sherbrooke?
But forget the "Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two majors in nine years" and "would a guy who was concussed really do this?" stuff. Clean players make bad decisions occasionally too.
This focus here should be on the ruling, which is inconsistent with other facets of player safety. Consider this:
One player takes a charge at an opponent. The opponent, sensing this, turns his back to the play and absorbs the blow to earn a boarding penalty and, in theory, an injury. In essence, "the opponent put himself in vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check." His actions caused the injury, even if the initial charge could have been its own infraction.
Would that result in a suspension, or would the League's mandate for personal responsibility on both ends of the infraction overrule it?
The point is that Bouchard's retaliatory act was illegal, even if it happens every game, but it was Calvert's actions that made it injurious. Yet in this case, and against the logic applied to other infractions, it's Bouchard that's responsible for the injuries on what was an accident.
So we don't agree with this one. It's a penalty, sure. And maybe it's a fine. But the facts don't point to a 2-game suspension; and that there was one opens the door to a mandatory minimum for similar acts — or at least calls for them.
But let's not turn this into a SHANAHAN IS FAILING US!!! rant quite yet. It's been a month. He's been great. As Bouchard's act reminds us: Quality professionals can get caught up in bad situations.