Thursday, April 12, 2012

About that Shea Weber Thing...

The NHL Playoffs have already been overshadowed by the controversy over this hit: the Nashville Preadators' Shea Weber smashed the Detroit Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg into the boards. Well, maybe not all of Zetterberg, but certainly his head. Go ahead and watch the whole video; it's a pretty vicious little move.

Given the NHL's admirable focus on player safety and trying to take the viciousness out of the game, a lot of us were expecting Weber to be suspended for a few games.Yes, this is the playoffs, when a suspension might swing a series, but hey, if you really want to make the game safer, you've got to make the consequences felt by the whole team, not just single players. That's the only way to make such behavior truly unacceptable to the players themselves.

Those of us who were thinking along these lines were obviously surprised and outraged to learn that Weber is only getting fined, not suspended.

The NHL's rationale- tellingly, articulated in a press release, not one of Shanahan's videos (which are seriously a great way to convey the information on these things)- was that as Zetterberg was not really hurt, so a fine, along with the two-minute minor that Weber (with only second left in the game) was punishment enough.

I think this is an extremely flawed line of thinking. And Shanahan has been considering "actual injury" all year in doling out suspensions, so it's not just about Weber and Zetterberg (indeed, as a Hawks fan, if it were just about this incident, I'd be okay with trying to take a 'Wing's head off). But the fact is, that consideration gives us no guidance going forward, so the deterrent effect of these punishment- or lack thereof- is seriously compromised.

Look at the Weber/Zetterberg hit. There's no real indication of why Zetterberg escaped injury there. There's a dozen factors at play there, and frankly, they all had to fall perfectly in place to protect Zetterberg. However that happened, there's no indication that Weber was aware of it and factoring it in when he acted. Thus, there's no way for future players in Weber's position to understand why his actions were (relatively) acceptable, and what they may do that wouldn't be.

The problem goes the other way, too; if some weird thing develops so that a player is MORE injured on a play than he should have been (to borrow some Don Cherry speak, "if the player don't protect himself!"), there's still no indication of what the hitter did that was worse than other hits; it just ended up with worse consequences. It ends up just looking like luck, and that's a lousy way to run a discipline system.

The sine qua non of the NHL's beefed up player discipline program and it's increased transparency is player safety- the NHL is going to protect players by making it clear exactly what hits endanger them and harshly punishing those hits. But the injury criteria is only hurting that clarity- and it may lead to more hurt players.

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