There have been two instances of supplementary discipline handed down in the NHL since the start of the playoffs.
The first was to Milan Lucic for a needless and gutless spear on Danny DeKeyser, which netted him a $5,000 fine, the maximum for someone who does not have to go through a phone hearing. That was the second spear Lucic doled out to an opponent in about three weeks, but the first for which he heard from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
The second was obviously much bigger: A three-game ban to Brent Seabrook for trying to see if he could all the way through David Backes’ body if he hit him hard enough.Of course, given that, as of this morning, a total of 21 games have taken place in the NHL, that doesn’t feel like it’s a ton or anything. Especially given the gravity and apparent intensity exhibited in pretty much all the series played to this point. That Chicago/St. Louis and Detroit/Boston were the two to have boiled over into the range of needing DOPS to step in; the former is a hotly-contested rivalry to begin with played between two teams that still value the hell out of being able to beat the hell out of their opponents, while the latter is being played between a team that will never fight back and one that delights in straddling and sometimes stepping over the line of proper physical play.
But the way in which DOPS has operated in bringing down these judgments against Seabrook and Lucic is part of the reason this kind of thing — i.e. the importance of “finishing a check” and a general lack of respect for the safety of an opponent — is endemic in the league today.
The Lucic spear netting only a $5,000 fine can be explained away as, apart from being appallingly dirty, not in any way injurious to DeKeyser, who didn’t miss a shift, and not existing outside the bounds of gamesmanship and message-sending and all that other stuff the Bruins think is so important to establish early in a series. But it was, again, the second time in less than a month such an act was committed by a guy who’s also been suspended twice and fined once before this. The very definition of a repeat offender.
Seabrook had never so much as spoken with Player Safety for an illegal play, and that was highlighted in his suspension video. No fines, no suspensions. But the hit was so egregious and injurious that something had to be done. Makes sense that he was suspended quickly and decisively.
But do either of these penalties seem like enough?
Lucic, with his history, should have at least gotten a phone hearing, and maybe even a one-game suspension. A $5,000 fine means less than nothing to him. He laughs at $5,000. He’d do it again tomorrow. Missing a game would have at least given him pause. Maybe. Meanwhile, the way Seabrook hit Backes was shocking, high and hard and late all at the same time, and three games seems like it really isn’t very much at all when you actually watch the suspension video. That video, by the way, seems to go out of its way to not-mention the fact that Seabrook seemed to make initial contact with Backes’ head and just about popped the damn thing off. And if the league thought the head contact was incidental (it wasn’t) or the principal point of contact (it was) then that should have at the very least been mentioned in the video itself.
To not mention that fact makes it seem — and stick with me here because this is a new concept — like they were trying to find a reason to keep the Seabrook suspension to just three games. Which is so weird, right? Like, the NHL trying to protect its star players from major supplementary discipline for checks that would have earned a guy who plays, say, 15 minutes a night instead of Seabrook’s 22 about twice as many games as that.
Lucic, too, is a star who therefore gets away with a lot more than he should, both in terms of skipping past most supplementary discipline and preserving his image as a guy who just “plays the game hard.”
But even beyond those same old complaints about the inequity of the way in which the NHL — and frankly, most other professional sports leagues — treats its stars, these two cases highlight why things get especially silly when we get to the postseason.
There’s that old adage that when the playoffs roll around, two equals one. That is, any suspension given out is about half of what would have been dropped on a player if it had been the regular season instead. By this rule, we can guess that Lucic would have been fined $10,000, Seabrook suspended for six games.
So here’s a question: Why? Is Backes half as concussed as he would have been? Were DeKeyser’s testicles speared 50 percent less? Obviously the games mean more, and there are fewer of them, but that shouldn’t mean that the punishments doled out for breaking the rules and potentially injuring an opponent should be any less harsh. It, I believe, called the NHL Department of Player Safety regardless of whether we’re talking about the regular season or the postseason. In such situations, a player’s safety was compromised by another, and there must be a penalty for that, which should be handed down uniformly.
People talk about how dumb it is that referees often end up putting their whistles away in the third period of games on infractions that were absolutely, and correctly, called for minors in the first. This kind of “game management” shouldn’t be acceptable. So why do we all just accept what is, at its core, more or less the same thing from Player Safety? It’s Just Part Of The Game, I guess. But why, exactly, does it have to be?