Throwing It all Away
It seems unthinkable that Brendan Shanahan would throw away the approval ratings he earned with the Raffi Torres decision on Saturday.
But apparently that's what the Shaky Sheriff has in mind.
After banning Torres for 25 games early in the day on Saturday, Shanahan was, just hours later, presented with another potential disciplinary decision regarding a high hit by Ottawa's Chris Neil on Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers.
No penalty was called on the play. Boyle was cutting from right to left high in the Ottawa zone when a backchecking Neil swooped in and caught Boyle with a crushing hit that a year ago, before changes in the NHL rulebook, would have been legal.
It was from the blindside, as Boyle didn't see the Neil train coming. The impact point was Neil's shoulder to Boyle's head, although Neil didn't leave his feet and kept his elbows down. The hit was also not late, although Boyle didn't have the puck.
Boyle was stunned, got to his feet, finished the game but now may have a concussion that will keep him out of Game 6 on Monday.
The hit was not comparable in any way, really, to Torres' dirty hit on Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. But it did have one element the Torres hit did not, and that's the suggestion of premeditation.
In fact, the reaction of many initially was that Boyle was again getting his just desserts for mussing the hair of Ottawa star blueliner Erik Karlsson in Game 1 of the series. In Game 2, Boyle was attacked by Senators goon Matt Carkner early in the first period, with Carkner - abandoning the always mysterious "code" - continuing to rain punches on Boyle even though the Ranger forward didn't fight back and even after he had been knocked to the ice.
So was Saturday night's hit more retribution on Boyle?
Regardless, New York's Carl Hagelin was suspended in Game 2 for three games for a head shot on Daniel Alfredsson of the Senators, who has not yet returned to the series.
It seems unthinkable, given all the circumstances, that Shanahan would now, after laying down the law so heavily on Torres, permit Neil to walk away unpunished for his head shot on Boyle, a hit that certainly appeared to break Rule 48. Consistency is what hockey fans seem to want, and there can be no consistency when one player - a multiple offender - is getting 25 games for a head shot while another gets nothing for a head shot of his own. Yes, Neil would at least in theory be a first time offender; then again, so was Hagelin.
Any reasonable person would suggest Neil should at least get one game; reports that Boyle's head was not the principle point of contact are laughable.
Neil, however, seems to lead a charmed life on these matters. He walked when he walloped Chris Drury with a dirty head shot, and the law never seems to catch up with him.
Early reports are he'll get off on the Boyle hit as well, probably escaping even without the Shea Weber ($2,500) slap on the wrist treatment. Assuming that's the case, Shanahan's best work will have been undone in 24 hours.
Twenty-five games to no games in one day. Hard to believe. Hagelin, meanwhile, is now the beast that needs to be caged, Neil just a good old Canadian boy playing the game hard and Boyle needs to keep his head up.
"Not sure how we teach our players to look at the net, shoot the puck and then check out the danger at 45, 90 and 180 degrees in one motion," said one disgusted former NHLer this morning. "We cannot just say the game is hard and concussions happen. It's not right."
Such a shame. Briefly, it sure seemed like Shanahan was up to the task. One thing's for certain; if Torres chooses to appeal, his case just got a little stronger as darts-at-a-board NHL justice strikes again.