So far in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL has doled out nine suspensions. Players have been docked 16 games while two players and a coach have been fined for a total of $15,000.
While the number of disciplinary hearings has grown over the course of the postseason, a number of Capitals said there is little clarity as to what will or won’t receive scrutiny and punishment from the league.
It’s a murky picture, as players receive varying punishments for similar infractions.
Players guilty of seemingly obvious infractions, where an intent to injure is apparent – Shea Weber trying to crack Henrik Zetterberg’s head open against the boards in Game 1 of the Nashville-Detroit series and only receiving a $2,500 fine being one example – sometimes get off with a slap on the wrist, while others garner multiple game suspensions.
“It’s tough to know what is a suspension and what is not a suspension, but I think [vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan is] kind of under the gun, too, with fan pressure and all that stuff,” Capitals winger Jason Chimera said. “You suspend one thing, you’ve got to suspend another thing too, so it’s tough. We don’t want to crush people near the face right now, but it’s tough to know what’s right and what isn’t.”
In the final sentence of the above quote, Chimera was referring to the NHL’s decision to uphold the automatic one-game ban for Nicklas Backstrom after the center received a match penalty for cross checking Boston forward Rich Peverley in the face. Peverley was not injured on the play, which occurred after time expired in regulation of Game 3, but striking someone in the face with a stick is something the Capitals players said they understood couldn’t be ignored.
Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham was suspended for four games for a similar but more egregious incident against Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn. The Penguins forward pursued Schenn, cross checked him high in the chest and then punched him when he lay on the ice.
While Asham’s punishment likely didn’t surprise many, the one-game suspension of Pittsburgh’s James Neal did. Facing two separate disciplinary hearings, one for a hit on Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux the other for a hit on Sean Couturier, Neal received only the single-game ban.
Neal leapt into both players, but the NHL punished him only for the Giroux hit. It’s just one example of the ambiguity in the disciplinary rulings so far.
“There’s a little bit of a mixed, I’d say, message, with the way the suspensions have gone,” said Capitals winger Troy Brouwer, who was not asked specifically about the suspensions levied against the Penguins players.
“I think it’s their intention to make guys aware of what they’re doing,” Brouwer said. “We know there are a few ones that have been suspended that were very deserving, and then there’s a couple calls that he’s going to make that are difficult calls. Sometimes they go the way you think, and sometimes they go the other way.”
Asked if it was tough to tell what might garner additional punishment from Shanahan, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin replied: “Sometimes. You can see how Weber hit Zetterberg in the head and he get just a fine. There is much dangerous game, and much dangerous moments. It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do. You never know what’s going to happen in a call, what the decision’s going to be. We can talk about it all day, but nothing we’re going to do can change. It’s all about them and it’s all about their minds.”
More on the Capitals:
— It’s gloves off in the NHL as playoffs turn violent
— Wise: NHL fails to control intimidation tactics
— Capitals, Bruins exchange verbal barbs