By Steve Kallas
» More Columns
Much has been made of the perceived unfairness (by Ranger fans) of Carl Hagelin getting a three-game suspension for elbowing Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson (especially versus the one-game suspension that Matt Carkner got for pummeling a defenseless Brian Boyle) and of Brandon Dubinsky getting kicked out of the game for being the “third man in” when he came to the aid of his teammate Boyle in Ottawa’s Game 2 win over the Rangers.
On WFAN, Boomer and Carton had Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s Dean of Discipline (OK, the NHL’s Vice President of Player Safety), on for a very interesting 22-minute discussion which, while it probably didn’t sway Ranger fans, gave us some fascinating looks into the thought process behind these punishments.
Frankly, it seems to this writer that Shanahan acquitted himself well and, at a minimum, you have to respect the difficult position he is put in on almost a nightly basis during the playoffs.
THREE GAMES FOR HAGELIN, ONE GAME FOR CARKNER
Shanahan did a very good job in explaining what, in his mind (the only mind that counts), were the differences. A star in his own right and a guy who understands the almost “Wild West” mentality at times in hockey, Shanahan clearly looked at the two plays differently.
He immediately pointed out, correctly, that these were two different plays: the elbow to the head by Hagelin which knocked the well-respected Ottawa captain (and maybe future Hall of Famer) out of the game with a head injury versus a frontier justice kind of response by Carkner to 6’7” Boyle’s manhandling in game 1 of Ottawa’s young star, Erik Karlsson.
Frankly, Shanahan’s right. When Boomer correctly brought up the Shea Weber/Henrik Zetterberg fiasco (Weber grabbed Zetterburg’s head and banged it against the boards at the end of Nashville/Detroit Game 1), Shanahan said he almost gave Weber a game and, rather, because Zetterberg, according to Detroit, was not hurt at all, decided to fine him $2500, the maximum he could fine Weber under the CBA. Shanahan, of course, in retrospect, should have given him a game and probably would if the same situation presented itself today. He didn’t know he would be roundly criticized, given his later suspensions and, clearly, he made a mistake (if there is nothing between $2500 and a one-game suspension, and you’re “close” to giving the one game suspension, you will be giving more one-game suspensions in the future).
How does all of this relate to Hagelin/Carkner/Dubinsky? Well, that’s easy. In just 1:26 of the next game, Detroit sent tough guy Todd Bertuzzi onto the ice to fight Weber. That was the payback Weber knew was coming, so they fought, took their five-minute majors and went to the penalty box (by the way, the not-suspended Weber would eventually score the game-winner in Game 2).
So Brian Boyle, a big, tough guy who intentionally tried to intimidate the Ottawa much-smaller star (Karlsson), knew full well what was coming. And it didn’t take long. In fact, Shanahan said something that nobody knew – that Boyle was told before the faceoff what was going to happen. That’s very important.
So Boyle, unlike Weber, who stood and fought Bertuzzi, decided not to fight. And that’s fine (in fact, the Rangers got a five-minute power play out of it). So Carkner engages Boyle, who refuses to fight (Shanahan says he would have done the same thing). Boyle gets punched in the face, does not drop his gloves, curls into the fetal position on the ground and then takes five more blows, none to the head (which, apparently, was important to Shanahan). Carkner gets a five-minute major and gets kicked out of the game. Boyle (correctly) gets nothing and doesn’t miss a shift.
Dubinsky, third man in, also gets kicked out of the game. Many of us felt that there was no fight and, therefore, there should have been no third-man-in ejection. Well, Shanahan has a partially good answer for that as well – that the rule speaks of an “altercation,” not a fight and, clearly, the Carkner/Boyle fiasco was an altercation and the refs, rather than another player, should break it up.
And that’s fine, insofar as it goes. But why didn’t anyone break up the “altercation?” Boyle got punched, was knocked down (when all hockey fights are broken up by that unwritten rule, “let them fight until they hit the ground”) and then was punched FIVE times. There was plenty of time for an official to get in there BEFORE Dubinsky jumped in.
One other thing: if Dubinsky had kept his head and not jumped in because of emotion (and most of us would have done what Dubinsky did), if he had stopped just before jumping on Carkner, the next two guys on the pile were Senators. What, would the refs have kicked out a Senator when a Senator was beating a defenseless Ranger?
You understand the theater of the absurd that would have been.
THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE?
Well, it was clear, without Shanahan saying it, that guys like Weber and Boyle, NHL tough guys, understand full well that when they bang the head of a smaller star into the boards or they lightly smack/punch in the face a smaller star to intimidate, there will be consequences. So, Weber knew Bertuzzi (or someone) would be coming for him; Boyle knew (and, according to Shanahan, was forewarned, before the faceoff) that Carkner was coming for him. Weber decided to fight; Boyle decided not to.
The real question is: why didn’t Boyle tell his teammates he wasn’t going to engage Carkner? If he did, Dubinsky probably would have steered clear and not gotten kicked out of the game.
Interesting stuff, but there is clearly a different set of rules for the fighting tough guys than the smaller superstars.
BACK TO HAGELIN
Interestingly, Shanahan compared the Hagelin elbow to a prior suspension of Vancouver’s Byron Bitz for a shoulder (as opposed to an elbow in Hagelin’s case). Bitz got two games just a few days earlier for illegally hitting (and injuring) L.A. King Kyle Clifford. If you watch the Bitz hit and the Shanahan explanation (these videos really help you understand), you can tell how dangerous the Bitz hit (and the Hagelin hit) was. In both cases, the hit resulted in injury to the player.
Why is that important? Well, because very few know that, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL must consider (as one factor to be considered when rendering punishment) any injury (or lack thereof, see the Zetterberg analysis above) when dispensing punishment.
So the real argument for Ranger fans, in this writer’s opinion, is how can you split hairs (or shoulders or elbows) by saying Bitz (who “only” got two games cause he had no history of trouble with the league) used a shoulder but Hagelin (who “only” got three games cause he had no history of trouble with the league) used an elbow?
The better distinction would have been Alfredsson saw Hagelin coming; Clifford had no clue and never saw Bitz.
At most, Hagelin should have received two games, not three. And understand, the important point here, according to Shanahan, is that both Bitz and Hagelin would have received MORE games if they were viewed to be “bad guys.”
WHAT ABOUT BOOMER’S PRE-MEDITATION ARGUMENT?
It’s a good one but clearly, in the league office, pre-meditation is OK (even to be expected by the Webers and Boyles of the world). That’s simply the distinction between the tough guys who know the deal and the “nicer,” for lack of a better word, stars who are often on the wrong end of this punishment. Shea Weber and Brian Boyle are supposed to take it and deal with it; they are big, tough guys. Erik Karlsson, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson are not supposed to take it and deal with it, or, at least, not without punishment for the offender.
Like it or not, that’s the difference.
This may not make Ranger fans happy, but Brendan Shanahan, who played for the Rangers and still lives in New York, did his best. He may have been wrong in some form of his judgment, but nobody can say he wasn’t trying to be fair.
And, yes, all of the above has been written by a lifelong Ranger fan.
P.S. Daniel Alfredsson did not play in Game 3 of the Senators-Rangers series.