On Monday evening, Boston Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand was suspended for five games by NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his “hit” on Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Sami Salo during Saturday’s matinee contest at TD Garden.
In fairness to the league, Shanahan and the player safety department have done an excellent job in improving the league’s discipline system from the shambles it was left in after the departure of Colin Campbell. However, this decision is simply one that is indefensible.
Despite Marchand’s well-deserved reputation as an agitator and fire-starter who tends to consistently walk the thin line between what’s right and what’s acceptable in the game, the depth of this punishment far exceeds the impact of the crime. The B’s 5’8″ second line winger had twice previously faced supplementary discipline. The first came in the form of a two game ban after delivering an elbow to the skull of Blue Jacket’s forward R.J. Umberger last March. The second came with a $2, 500 fine for slew-footing Penguins’ blueliner Matt Niskanen in November of this season.
In this situation, the real problem is that in a league overwhelmed by concussions, it is next to impossible to support a decision to suspend a player who was simply attempting to avoid taking a head-on collision. In addition, as Shanahan pointed out, the Canucks’ revelation of Salo allegedly suffering a concussion from the collision only makes a mockery of the discipline system as a whole. The result of an incident should have no relation to the severity of the punishment. Especially in a league that saw Matt Cooke end Marc Savard’s career and not even get a slap on the wrist for his troubles.
All this without mentioning the incredible inconsistency in the system, that spans back to last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. First, in game one ‘Nucks’ defenseman Dan Hamhuis low-bridged Milan Lucic along the boards as no. 17 carried the puck up ice. Also, in an eerily similar play Mason Raymond up-ended an oncoming Marchand during game five of the Final. In both scenarios, the Vancouver player walked away scotch-free without even a phone call from the league. GM Peter Chiarelli echoed his frustration with the league’s inconsistency in a statement shortly after the announcement of the suspension.
“It is frustrating that there are clear comparable situations that have not been penalized or sanctioned in the past.” – Peter Chiarelli
In any case, the moral of this story is that the NHL has yet to figure out a correct way to handle disciplinary situations. The league’s decision to suspend Calgary Flames’ forward Rene Bourque — who was suspended only 16 days earlier — for five games after his brutal hit to the head of Nicklas Backstrom was once thought of has an acceptable ruling. However, the Marchand incident pales in comparison to what happened between Bourque and Backstrom, yet they were both given the same punishment. In a sense, the league is sending the message that it’s equally acceptable to target an opponent’s head as it is to avoid a hit to defend yourself. Now that is simply incomprehensible and indefensible.
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Have written for The Hockey Guys and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com.