NHL Condones Another Bad Hit

Savard suffered a grade 2 concussion.

As a devoted N.Y. Rangers fan, I will never be confused with someone who is sympathetic to the Boston Bruins, but even I have to admit that NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell (a former Rangers coach) made a massive mistake by not imposing a suspension on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ would-be tough guy Matt Cooke for inflicting a cheap-shot on the Bruins’ Marc Savard (a former Rangers player) this week.

Savard is finished for the season, yet Campbell declared the hit clean. No penalty was called at the time, but I figured that was because no on-ice official actually saw the incident. Among the justifications for the non-call Campbell served up: Cooke did not leave his feet to deliver the blow; the hit did not meet a league standard for unsuspecting; and shoulder checks are legal. Campbell claimed the “intent to injure” clause did not apply because he apparently could find no reason to apply it. Further, Campbell noted that he wanted the league policy in such a situation to be “consistent,” and cited a case from earlier in the season in which the Philadelphia Flyers’ Mike Richards inflicted a concussion on the Florida Panthers’ David Booth and did not receive a suspension.

What a crock! I saw the video, and sure did not look like a coincidence that Savard was struck in the head just after taking a shot on goal. And there are any number of other cases in which a cheap shot that resulted in serious injury earned the perpetrator a suspension. One that springs immediately to mind is the March 8, 2004 incident in which the Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi leveled the Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore near the end of the season. Bertuzzi was suspended indefinitely and the team fined $250,000. The suspension kept him out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In addition, Bertuzzi faced assault charges.

In my mind, it is incidents like this that give hockey a black eye, not fighting in general, which still has its role in the modern game. Clearly there is a difference between two heavyweights standing skate-to-skate and trading blows in a fair fight, and sneaking up on an unsuspecting opponent and attacking his head while he is defenseless. That is simply inexcusable.

My solution to the problem is elegant in its simplicity: If you cheap-shot another player and knock him out of the game, you don’t return to league play until your victim does. If he’s out two games, so are you. If his career is over, then so is yours. That should definitely make the thugs and cowards think twice before targeting the head. Incidentally, the NHL can stamp out fighting any time it wants via mandatory suspensions: If you trade blows, you get suspended for the next 50 games. No excuses, no appeals. Bye-bye, fighting.

But I do not expect the league and the notoriously lenient Campbell to see the light anytime soon. Especially not before the Pens have to go to Boston on March 18. I hope the Bruins do the right thing, since the National Hockey League clearly punted.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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