Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 4/17/12

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 17: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 17, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 3-2 after a shootout. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

NHLHS Pittsburgh Penguins Correspondent Robbie Naugle explains why Brendan Shanahan whiffed on the two game suspension of Kris Letang.

On Monday night in Winnipeg, a hit occurred between Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Kris Letang and Winnipeg Jets center Alexander Burmistrov that sent the lanky center flying into the boards.

The hit occurred during the third period of a tight 2-1 game and happened after Letang had his point shot blocked. After the shot was blocked, both Letang and Burmistrov skated after the loose puck as it headed toward the side wall. Letang recognized that he would not win the race to the puck and thus braced to hit Burmistrov once he gained control of the puck.

As Burmistrov reached the puck he made an attempt to breakaway from the oncoming Letang. When he made this last second move, his back turned towards Letang and in the process he caught an edge on the ice and began to lose his balance and fell toward the ice. Letang then made contact and sent Burmistrov flying into the boards head first. Letang was whistled for a penalty on the play and sat two minutes for boarding. This was a seemingly harmless play that Letang was penalized for and we all moved on.

Well everything seemed harmless until today when we found out that Letang had a meeting with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan about his hit last night on Burmistrov. Personally, I couldn’t believe this hit was even being looked at by the NHL for possible suspension because it was so minor and Letang wasn’t even a repeat offender. You could see Burmistrov change the position of his body so quickly that  Letang never had the opportunity to change his decision whether or not to hit him. It was cut and dry and there was never an intent to injure.

Well the Shanahammer must have seen something that the rest of us didn’t as he suspended Letang for the next two games for the incident. Shanahan cited his reasons for the hit by saying that Letang failed to minimize the contact. However, he said not one thing about Burmistrov turning his back at the last moment and giving Letang no time to re-adjust and minimize whatever contact he was going to deliver with his hit. Shanahan explained in his suspension video that the onus was on Letang to avoid the hit. In that case, why wasn’t the onus on Burmistrov to avoid putting himself in a potentially vulnerable position for that kind of hit. I think too much pressure is being put on the players to make sure every hit is made in accordance to NHL rules but the player being hit has no responsibility in this type of situation. Burmistrov could have avoided any contact by simply skating away or not turning directly into an oncoming check.

I’m not saying that Letang shoulders no blame in all of this I’m just saying that both players made stupid decision during the play. Letang didn’t need to make a hit in that situation, but at the same time Burmistrov should have known better than to turn his body into the path of an oncoming player who had the intention of making a clean hit and make a play on the puck.

No matter how much I can say I disagree with the call it won’t change things now. The Pens will play their next two games without the services of Letang along with an array of others, while Shanahan looks like a God for eliminating these types of hits in the league. Letang will also join a laundry list of other perfectly harmless players who will now be tagged as “repeat offenders” due to this system. Perhaps Letang can seek solace in knowing he got the same suspension as a guy who was suspended for a high sticking penalty. This is getting to the point of ridiculousness for the NHL, its fans, and the players. You cannot take contact out of the game yet that’s what Shanahan is trying to do. This is a reaction to an overreaction by the media.  There is a reason that the issue of who plays disciplinarian is going to be a sticking point with the new CBA. Players are tired of feeling like all the blame is being placed on them for hits that are mostly harmless. Yes, there are stupid hits and they should be suspended for that. This game is played at a speed where snap judgments cannot always be made, thus we cannot have players suspended for those reasons.


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