Jordin Tootoo got hit with a two-game suspension today for hitting Ryan Miller, which was momentous for a number of reasons.
For one thing, it was Miller’s first game back since Milan Lucic ran him over and everyone on the Sabres threw a fit over how reprehensible it was. And to be fair, whether Tootoo meant to hit him or not — he was probably trying to avoid contact, but not too hard — he got him pretty good. It’s hard to blame Miller for what is very obviously an overreaction, nor can you blame his teammates for dog-piling the guy immediately. For Miller, he’d just gotten back from a concussion and probably didn’t much appreciate a 200-pound man jumping into his head. For his teammates, they’d just spent the last two weeks being called punks for not defending Miller, so they literally jumped on the first chance they go to do so.
But for Tootoo to get suspended? For two games? Well, that’s Colin Campbell’s NHL all over again.
I understand that Lindy Ruff wept openly to anyone who would give him the time of day that it’s now “open season” on goaltenders, implying that the league just stands around with its hands in its pockets whenever a netminder gets a bump big or small. And in recent weeks, we’ve seen a pretty decent amount of it. But the issue is this: Do we see more goaltenders getting run over because more goaltenders are getting run over, or do we see it because we’re looking for it.
Goaltenders get bumped all the time. In their crease (ask Tomas Holmstrom about that), behind the net, wherever. Certainly, not as egregiously as Miller has gotten drilled the last two times out, but enough that a debate got started.
Brendan Shanahan put an end to that with Tootoo’s two-gamer, which, by the way, the official Sabres Twitter feed called a “slap on the wrist.” Is that what it’s come down to now? Shanahan even acknowledged that an argument could be made that Tootoo tried to avoid the hit, and now we’re handing out two-game suspensions for what may or may not be accidental contact? After Lucic got nothing for what was a far more egregious and deliberate attempt to plant the guy in the cheap seats?
This is not the kind of transparency of decision-making we were promised when Shanahan took over, and it was not reasonable. If they wanted to send a message that goaltenders are not fair game, they had the perfect opportunity with Lucic. To do it now, essentially, is ringing up Tootoo for the last two weeks’ worth of goalie bumps by other players. A better example is the David Booth hit, if you want to call it that, on Miikka Kiprusoff on Sunday. Apart from the fact that it was a slower-developing play, Booth didn’t leap in the air and the play came from the right wing instead of the left, the play was remarkably similar to Tootoo’s hit on Miller.
Booth got two minutes for goaltender interference, as did Jarome Iginla for running into Roberto Luongo earlier in the game. Neither even got consideration for supplementary discipline. Nor should they have.
Tootoo got a five minute major for charging, a game misconduct and a two-game suspension, which is placating to the Sabres to a laughable extent. It’s also a sign that the frustrating inconsistency which has long plagued the NHL’s supplementary discipline system is alive and well. It’s difficult to say exactly what Tootoo did so terribly wrong that he lost two games of his season that Lucic didn’t do worse. The latter was an ugly open-ice explosion that was easily avoidable by both parties, the former the result of a player doing what they’re all taught to do (go hard to the net) and both he and the goalie getting caught with nowhere to go.
Precedent, which should count for something, you’d think, said no supplemental discipline. If the league wants to be serious about bumping goalies like it is for contact to the head, then Lucic, Iginla, Booth and more would have all gotten two games as well. If it isn’t, then what’s Tootoo getting suspended for?
It’s that kind of “Wheel of Justice” guesswork that made Colin Campbell’s reign as discipline czar so frustrating. To be fair to the league, though, it took longer to come back than most people probably though.