Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panesar and Moustakas: Post-Season Pandemonium

Brendan Shanahan - 2011 Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction
Upon returning from a family excursion to Israel, our Kamal Panesar came back to a surprisingly rough NHL post-season.

With your new favorite duo reunited, we discuss the early playoff madness.

Kamal Panesar: New York Rangers' forward Carl Hagelin was recently handed three games for elbowing Ottawa Senators' captain Daniel Alfredsson in the head. The right call, in my estimation. So why nothing for Weber on Zetterberg? Oh, wait, is it because he is a superstar?

Blech. Bush league.

Louis Moustakas: Bush league indeed.

Weber evading suspension is baffling. Perhaps it is because he is a star, as you point out, or perhaps the league does not want to dim the playoff hopes of one of its shining southern markets. Either way, the NHL once again missed a precious opportunity to set a proper disciplinary tone. And, in failing to suspend Weber, Brendan Shannahan has created more problems for himself.

First of all, from a public relations point of view, this is a nightmare. Following Hagelin's three game punishment, the New York Rangers released a statement mentioning that they "are thoroughly perplexed in the ruling's inconsistency with other supplementary discipline decisions that have been made throughout this season and during the playoffs." If that is not a thinly veiled reference to the Weber incident, I don't know what is.

Second of all, Weber walking away scot free sets the tone for the playoffs. Typically more aggressive teams like the Flyers, Rangers and Bruins all stand to be benefit from a more clement environment while teams not inclined to play in such fashion are disadvantaged.

In any case, do you not find the league's stance on such issues confusing?

Kamal Panesar: I find it inconceivable how the Gary Bettman NHL simply refuses to protect it’s assets (the players), and insists, stubbornly, on putting their collective heads in the sand. It is beyond childish and it only hurts the game. The fact that they refuse to admit there is a concussion epidemic, even though such non-pugilistic player like Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Daniel Sedin, Carey Price, and many, many other superstars, were felled by this exactly problem this year.

When Brendan Shannahan became the head of NHL discipline last summer, the hope was that there was a new sheriff in town who would get away from Colin Campbell’s farcical disciplinary ruling style: one type of punishment for stars and one for everyone else.

And, to his credit, Shannahan started off that way. But he has backslid so severely that his rulings are now just as unclear, inconsistent and confusing as his predecessor. What will it take for this league to get it’s stuff in order? A death on the ice?

Louis Moustakas: The only thing that would truly shake up the league's culture of laissez-faire is if the rough and tumble negatively impacted their bottom line. Much like how the crackdown on obstruction occurred only after the devastating lost season of 2004-2005, I feel that, in the short term, it would take something equally dramatic to create a true shift in league culture. 

However, with playoff excitement at a fever pitch and news that US T.Vratings are strong, I doubt Bettman and company feel any impetus for change. Heck, they barely seemed concerned about raising the maximum fine (2500$) in the CBA!

As for Shannahan, he has done a great deal to diminish his credibility this post-season. Not only was the Weber non-suspension an aberration, but then news leaked that he might reduce Carl Hagelin's suspension if Daniel Alfredsson returned to health sooner than expected.

It is all well and good to take into account injury in doling out a suspension, but it seems incredibly inappropriate to go back on a decision, doesn't it?

In the end, without wide ranging support and clear, quantifiable disciplinary guidelines, it is near impossible to fulfill Shannahan's role with any real success though.

Kamal Panesar: Ultimately, Louis, you’re 100 percent correct. Nothing will change. Moreover, there will be no impetus for Bettman et al. to change anything as long as ratings are high and the dollars are rolling in. It really feels like someone is going to have to die, on the ice, for the league to change its prehistoric ways.

Too dramatic? I don’t think so.

If we go back to the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty last season, I thought that was the moment. My initial feeling was that Pacioretty was dead and that it was that defining moment where the league would be forced to change their ways. Fortunately I was wrong and Pacioretty ended up being alright. However, given the league’s recent, inconsistent rulings, I still think that horrific, Earth-stopping moment is around the corner.

I mean, unless the league makes clear decisions to curb unsafe behavior on the ice, this problem can only escalate.

On a final note, if you want an example of how to “clean up” the game, check out OHL commissioner, David Branch. This guy took it upon himself to clean things up and started imposing huge suspensions and fines for any dangerous plays and head-shots, without discriminating between stars and regular players. Well, in a matter of a season or two there are virtually no more on-ice shenanigans going on in that league—a league that many consider to have some of the best hockey in the world.

Now Branch and the OHL are taking it another step forward and talking about removing fighting completely.

That remains a topic for another day but, suffice it to say the NHL needs to get rid of the goonery, while keeping the toughness. There is simply no room for ANY player grabbing another player by the helmet and ramming his head into the glass. None. I don’t care if you are a superstar or a fringe NHLer. And until the NHL realizes and starts enforcing the rules as such, I will continue fear an eventual death in the NHL.

But that’s just me.

Louis Moustakas: My friend, your concerns and feelings are quite legitimate.

The worst part of all of this is that the league lacks clear direction, making things even more dangerous. Players hesitate to police themselves, fearing reprimand. Yet, when an incident arises, the disciplinary measures imposed are tepid at best. It creates an atmosphere where individuals are not held accountable for their actions, be it in physical or financial manner.

The Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller earlier this year is a perfect example. The Buffalo Sabres did not cause a brawl after Lucic's dangerous hit and, when they looked to the league for a response, the Bruins forward went unpunished.

Now, after years of watching the league do nothing, it seems the players have gone back to self-policing in these playoffs. But self-policing is a fine line, one that can quickly cross over to reckless vigilantism. Clearly, though, the league seems unaffected by these potential risks. And, until grave injury occurs, one suspects they will continue to remain indifferent to the situation.

Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and featured columnist on PowerScoutHockey.com. Kamal is also a regular on-air contributor on TSN 990, CJAD, LiveSport New Zealand, and other radio networks.

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Louis is an Associate Editor and Senior Writer at HabsAddict.com. Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)


So now, as an addendum to this article, Backstrom has been suspended, Torres is on his way out, Carkner got three games...

So what does it all mean? To me, it means that the league continues to be consistently inconsistent.

The fact that teams are releasing statements after suspension rulings, saying they have no idea what is legal and what is suspendable, to me, say it all.

This league doesn't know up from down right now.



Carkner just got one game. He was back last night (and even got an assist).

Now, there will certainly be more to look at with Wednesday's games. Malkin conveniently hit Niklas Grossman's head. Will he be punished? Of course not. He is Malkin.

Henrik Sedin also layed a sneaky elbow to Dustin Brown. But, since there was no injury and we are again taking about a star, nothing will happen.

As I've said before, until clear guidelines are in place (just like for high-sticking or puck over the glass), these things will always be up to wild interpretation.


I think you'll be waiting a while for clear guidelines.
The league likes it this way, "Keep it grey" is their motto. This is a business first and sport 2nd.
They will not willingly take their best products off the shelf during the best selling season.
You will see the token game here and there for stars and they will make an example out of a repeat offender who is a 3rd or 4th line forward or a 5-6 D-man.

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