With a couple of interpretations of rules and decisions on supplementary discipline in the first 3 days of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the league is in danger of losing control.
The first incident I am talking about was Brian Boyle’s flurry of punches to the face of Erik Karlsson in game 1 of the Rangers-Senators series. The punches, although not doing any harm, were beyond the normal scrum antics that are commonplace in the league. This was one player taking advantage of and targeting a key player on the Senators. The call on the play was two minutes each for roughing. That call sends the message that in a scrum, referees are going to send both players off rather than the actual offender for the infraction.
The second incident was Shea Weber’s driving of Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass as game 1 ended (right after Weber took a vicious swing at him and pretty much missed. The result of the play was a $2,500 fine. For all the crackdown on headshots that are supposed to be in place, this was a pure definition of targeting the head, and it wasn’t even part of a hockey play.
Since the league and its officiating crew doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it, the message has been sent that the players need to take it among themselves to settle the score. The result is the Slap-Shot like shenanigans that you saw on Saturday (and Friday in the case of Nashville-Detroit). Incidents between Ottawa and New York, St. Louis and San Jose (multiple fights after the final whistle has gone) show how little control the officials have and also how little detriment the penalties from the league office offer to players who toe (or cross) the line.
I am not advocating the NHL turn into some type of no-hitter league, and I was leading the cheers for Carkner from my couch for sending the message to Boyle, but the players need to know that there are boundaries even in the playoffs and crossing them will not be tolerated, and players need to know what will and what won’t be called a penalty. Karlsson didn’t deserve to get a minor for roughing for taking 5 punches to the face, the same penalty that the agressor received. . I am sure he is prepared to be targeted by the Rangers and accepts that plays are going to happen. He should not be expected to take shots to the face after the whistle that go unpenalized.
If the players feel secure that appropriate action will be taken by Brendan Shanahan and the league office, then the types of vigilante justice that has occurred the past two nights will be unnecessary. And if that means suspensions, playoffs or not, so be it. The game itself shouldn’t have the rules altered just because more is on the line. If it doesn’t change then more star players than Daniel Alfredsson and Daniel Sedin will be on the sidelines.