What job is worse? The one where you fly under the radar and no one notices what you do? Or the one where you get all sorts of praise and many times equal criticism? In one job, you’re never right or wrong, because no one cares. In the other, you’re never right or wrong because you can’t possibly please everybody.
Brendan Shanahan took the second job. He had to know that each decision he would make would come with its share of lofty praise and harsh criticism. Yet, he seems to go about his business the same way every time.
Shanahan’s first regular-season suspension came down on Sunday, a two-game ban for Pierre-Marc Bouchard, oft the victim of injurious hits. Bouchard is not known as a dirty player and the incident in which his stick hit Matt Calvert’s face on Saturday night could have ended much differently. However, it ended with Calvert bloodied and short a few teeth.
Bouchard claims, believably, that his intent was to slash Calvert across the hands, not the face. However, had Bouchard never lifted his stick in aggression in the first place, the incident would have never occurred.
Hockey is an emotional game, but the players that allow their emotions to get the better of them often put themselves at risk for reckless behavior. Reckless behavior then puts those players at risk for discipline.
As Shanahan clearly explains in the video, Bouchard has to be in control of his stick. Being in control of your stick indirectly means, what happens with your stick is your responsibility. If Bouchard made the decision to stay with the play and keep his stick on the ice none of this happens. Additionally, unlike many checks to the head, this wasn’t a bang-bang play. It was a conscious decision with intent. Because of his poor decision, Bouchard is justly suspended.
The suspension is a clear message to players that they will be held accountable for the poor decisions they make. Bouchard’s decision resulted in the injury of an opponent. A fine may have sufficed as opposed to a two-game suspension, but taking away games seems like a much more visible alternative. The fine would be the easy decision for Shanahan, but sometimes the easy, least controversial decision is an ineffective one.
What makes this case so fascinating is that it wasn’t an incidence of a check to the head or hit from behind. It was a stick penalty. We often forget how dangerous sticks can be. Hitting an opponent with one’s stick has always been illegal. Sure, you can tap a guy on his pads, or give him a little shove with a crossed stick and avoid penalty, but when there’s significant force applied, it’s a penalty.
Slashing, high-sticking and cross-checking can all result in serious injury. What would have happened if Bouchard’s stick hit Calvert’s eyes? What if Bouchard connected with Calvert’s wrist as he intended, and broke it? Luckily, neither of those things occurred, but both were possible outcomes of the action taken.
By suspending Bouchard two games, Shanahan is saying all dangerous plays are going to be taken care of. Stick penalties aren’t the topic du jour like checks to the head, but are no less important. When players make poor decisions with the dangerous object in their hands, they can cause a significant amount of damage.
Shanahan has a difficult job and will not always get it right. As we’ve learned in previous years, with previous incidences, everyone sees a play differently. Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty was seen as a hockey play by some and a crime by others.
Shanahan has to contest with biased fan bases, vocal agents to which he likely cannot (or will not) reply publicly, TV pundits with “old-time hockey” on the brain and large audiences, the NHLPA and a host of others that will rail against his decisions. Which is fine.
Shanahan has but one responsibility: Protect the players. Whether you agree with his decisions or not, he is clearly doing all he can to live up to that responsibility.