2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Brendan Shanahan Taking Wrong Approach to Discipline

Andrew Hirsh@twitter.comContributor IIApril 16, 2012

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14:  Brendan Shanahan speaks with the media prior to the 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at the Hockey Hall Of Fame on November 14, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With head injuries garnering so much attention over the past year, the NHL has been trying hard to convince the world that significant strides are being made towards improving on-ice safety.

But make no mistake: The message that the league has been preaching does not coincide with its actions. 

Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety, ruled with an iron fist out of the gate this season, handing down 28 suspensions in the first three-and-a-half months of 2011-12.

But it appears that the future Hall of Famer has grown soft, as only 10 players have been forced to miss time due to disciplinary reasons since the beginning of March.

The league may want you to believe that the number of illegal plays has declined along with the number of suspensions, but that's simply not true. This week's events, which have featured an inordinate amount of dangerous and illicit hits, proves that little (if nothing) has changed. 

Whether the level of discipline needs to be lenient or harsh is a matter of opinion; legitimate arguments can be made for both schools of thought.

But one notion that everyone can agree on is that regardless of how hard Shanahan comes down on perpetrators, he needs to remain persistent with his convictions. His inability to do so is where he's failed. 

After a violent start to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, doubt has begun to surface as to how well Shanahan has performed at his new job. Once praised for his fortitude and no-nonsense approach, he is now being questioned for blatant inconsistencies in his rulings. 

This doubt came to fruition in the wake of Shea Weber's ill-advised decision to grab Henrik Zetterberg's head and bash it into the boards last Wednesday, an act that received a trivial $2,500 fine.

Shanahan's choice not to suspend Weber has been met with a large amount of criticism, which, given the league's current ideologies, is completely warranted. 

After spending several days in the dark, Shanahan came forward on Monday when he spoke on the "Boomer and Carton" show on WFAN in New York. He stated on the air that Weber was not suspended because Zetterberg was not injured on the play.

This is where Shanahan is wrong. Whether a victim suffers an injury should be irrelevant; it is the intent to injure that should be the determinant in disciplinary cases. Weber's face-smashing of Zetterberg was not a hockey play—it was an obvious attempt to hurt an opponent. That is what matters. 

If one were to apply Shanahan's concept to real-world situations, his reasoning seems even more absurd. If a citizen were to try to physically assault another person and fail, they wouldn't get off with a small penalty.

Rather, they would be charged for attempted assault. It would behoove the NHL to adopt a similar mindset as our judicial system when making these calls. 

Truth is, the lack of severity in the Weber verdict goes against much of what the league has been supposedly working towards this year. With former players facing such devastating side-effects from head injuries, one should hope that the league would stick to their convictions and punish those that put others at serious risk.  


Andrew Hirsh is a credentialed NHL writer based in North Carolina and a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh