Found October 19, 2011 on The Victory Formation:
Pittsburgh_penguins_v_f0e2

It was the first post I wrote about hockey this season and it’s going to be a common theme, so get used to it. Discipline Czar Brendan Shanahan will continue to be a hot button topic in the NHL this year. The job he’s done so far has been masterful. I’ve approved of everything he’s done and his explanations have been flawless. It was only a matter of time before he handed down a suspension that I didn’t agree with though. I figured it would be against a Blackhawk though, not a Penguin.

Let’s get right to the tape.

Letang was suspended two games for this hit as Shanahan details to us. During the game, he was assessed a two minute minor penalty for boarding. There have been nearly 20 other players that have been assessed for boarding this season. None of them have been suspended. Including previous offenders Robyn Regehr and Ryan Callahan. All of these players committed the same foul and were assessed the two minute minor penalty for it. The rulebook states in rule 41.1:

 A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards. The severity of the penalty, based upon the degree of violence of the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.

Pretty straight forward, right? It’s the second part where it gets tricky:

There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact. However, there is also a responsibility on the player with the puck to avoid placing himself in a dangerous and vulnerable position. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.

Enormous amount of judgment, you say? Subjectivity doesn’t lend itself to concrete precedents like the one Shanahan is setting here. The onus is not only on Kris Letang here. By rule, it’s on both of the players. Burmistrov can’t put himself in a vulnerable position (which he did) and Letang has to minimize contact (which he didn’t). From the time where it’s pointed out that Letang is no longer playing the puck, but rather the man, he has to make several decisions. He has to make those decisions in less than a second. Do I play the puck or the man? If I’m playing the man, how do I keep the puck in the zone so this play stays onside? If I initiate contact, I can’t hit him in the numbers nor drive him into the boards.

That’s a lot to process in that span of time. Especially while trying to keep yourself upright on skates and poke check a vulcanized piece of rubber away from another player.

Shanahan’s key points in the video are as follows:

I have absolutely no qualms with Letang getting the two for boarding. He boarded the player, he should sit for two minutes. Where I do have a problem is with this (Rule 41.6):
Any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconducts under Rule 41 and/or Rule 43, in either Regular season or Play-offs, shall be suspended automatically for the next game of his team. For each subsequent game misconduct penalty the automatic suspension shall be increased by one game.
He did not receive a game misconduct in this instance. The one on the Comeau was rescinded and it also took place last season. But wait:
If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule28).
These are awfully loose terms. While I understand that they were collectively bargained for by the players in 2005, then amended in 2010 by the owners and general managers, they leave a lot of room for interpretation. What Brendan Shanahan is trying to do here is minimize the danger to players by laying down harsh penalties for infractions such as this. The first part I think is admirable just like I thought it was to start the season. It’s the second portion I have a problem with. The subjectivity involved with these types of suspensions is setting a very dangerous precedent. The next time a player commits a minor penalty against a defenseless player, should they be suspended? Especially if they have a history like Kris Letang? Well, Letang’s teammate Chris Kunitz was suspended last year during the playoffs for an illegal hit. In the exact same game that Letang committed this boarding penalty, Kunitz did the following:

Why wasn’t this addressed? Why didn’t Kunitz receive a suspension? He has a history. He crosschecked a defenseless player in the face. He didn’t receive a penalty, but under the supplemental discipline rule, he could have still been suspended. Where is the consistency?

I’m all for taking dirty play out of hockey. We don’t need more Marc Savards or in the instance of boarding, what Jamie McGinn did to Aaron Rome last season would qualify. The subjectivity involved in this suspension is what concerns me. Letang served a two minute penalty for committing a boarding foul. There’s enough rope in the rulebook that allows the NHL to determine that two minutes isn’t enough. In my opinion, two games is too much. Boarding happens almost nightly in the NHL. Rosters will become very thin if we have a precedent in place that allows for suspensions after minor penalties.

Shanahan has drawn a line in the sand here. I’m just worried that a tide of similar penalties without suspension might wash that line away.

THE BACKYARD
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