I didn’t need the first few playoff games to learn that the NHL needs some officiating changes and a better policy on disciplining players. I have said numerous times going back through past instances whether it be Todd Bertuzzi or Alexander Perezhogin, that we need consistent strict rules on suspensions. The memo sent out this postseason was that the NHL did not want any “message sending” at the end of the games and warned coaches of sending out the likely candidates that would cause problems. This is playoff hockey. Emotions are running higher than any other time. You’re playing the same team up to seven times in the most hostile environments in sports. Things are going to happen, especially as the game goes on and comes to a close.
In the case of Carcillo, I understand. He was out on the ice with only seconds to go, playing on the penalty kill of a 5 on 3 disadvantage. He clearly delivered a shot to the head and his penalty minute total would certainly lead to the title of a message sender. Carcillo got the one game ban and John Stevens was suspended. This was the first game of the playoffs, the memo was sent and the NHL delivered. Fine. I would wonder though what the outcome would have been if Jeff Carter delivered the hit instead of Carcillo.
This brings me to where I have my beef with the league. The very next day Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri did almost the exact same thing. Off a face off lined up next to Martin Havlat, Cammalleri clearly and purposely punches Havlat in the head after the puck is dropped. No suspension. Ahh, but Mike Cammalleri is Calgary’s second leading scorer, and the play was not in the final seconds of the game. Regardless, this should have been a one game suspension and probably would have been if it wasn’t a high profile player.
And it’s not like the Carcillo incident has been the only altercation towards the end of a game. As of right now there have been 108 penalty minutes distributed to players in the last 30 seconds of a game. In total there have been ten fighting majors, 12 misconducts and one game misconduct in the playoffs. Of these, four fighting majors and seven misconducts have come within the last 30 seconds or final whistle of a game. Certainly seems like somebody besides Carcillo is sending out messages at the end of the game.
How about Maxim Lapierre sending Phil Kessel into the boards after Kessel did all of things, score an empty net goal with 14 seconds left in the first game of the Boston and Montreal series? What about Montreal sending out Tom Kostopoulos and Mike Komisarek for the remaining seconds. Kostopoulos tried to elbow Matt Hunwick in the head before Komisarek appeared to poke him in the eyes. The only clearer message would have been to use Georges Laraque as a battering ram and plow into Tim Thomas at full speed when Boston was celebrating. I guess that could have drawn a suspension.
The NHL could have sent out a message after Kevin Bieksa used his stick to knock the legs outs of B.J. Crombeen that insinuated a small scale brawl at the final whistle. They could have targeted Crombeen, for after being hit immediately dropped his gloves and instigated a tussle with Bieksa. The officials did not give out fighting majors, but I believe that somebody was trying to connect with some kind of message.
The league, Colin Campbell, Gary Bettman (ugh), or somebody needs to fix this issue no matter playoffs or the first game of the season. The inconsistency is enough to drive any fan or player crazy. I give them credit for the suspension to Milan Lucic for the cross check to the head/neck area of Maxim Lapierre because I really don’t think they wanted to but rather had to due it. The situation would have been different if the league stuck to the “message sending” policy and given Lapierre a suspension for going after Phil Kessel after he scored late.
Find a line and stick with it. I don’t want to hear excuses as to why one player gets suspended and another one doesn’t for the same infraction. If you want to give repeat offenders a stiffer penalty, than do so. Create an outline that details the amount of games suspended for the infraction. Shot to the head with intention of injury = one game for first offense, three for second offense. This way the superstar player will get the same penalty as the fourth line winger and an actual stander is set. Obviously there would have to be further discussion as these lines too could become blurred depending on how the reviewer sees the infraction.
What does it matter if players send out messages late in games when the league doesn’t send any back?