I’ll begin with this: I respect the hell out of Brendan Shanahan. He was an instrumental part of some of the best Red Wings teams of all time and played the game with a passion and skill level that made him a sensational talent.
He’s in a different spot now, as the NHL’s head disciplinarian, the man in charge of punishing players for dangerous or dirty hits. And here’s the bottom line: Shanahan absolutely dropped the ball by failing to suspend Shea Weber for his ridiculous head-hunting play against Henrik Zetterberg on Wednesday night.
All season long, Shanahan has preached safety, dropping the so-called “Shanahammer” on reckless players. Front and center in Shanahan’s war on the types of plays the NHL wants out of its game have been hits with the head as the main point of contact and hits with the intent to injure.
As the horn sounded in Nashville’s Game 1 win, Weber was guilty of both. He blatantly punched Zetterberg in the back of the head, then grabbed him with two hands and slammed him, head-first, into the glass.
“This was a reckless and reactionary play on which Weber threw a glancing punch and then shoved Zetterberg’s head into the glass. As is customary whenever Supplemental Discipline is being considered, we contacted Detroit following the game and were informed that Zetterberg did not suffer an apparent injury and should be in the lineup for Game 2.
“This play and the fine that addressed it will be significant factors in assessing any incidents involving Shea Weber throughout the remainder of the playoffs.”
So, essentially, Shanahan told Weber “Don’t do it again” and “You’re lucky Zetterberg wasn’t hurt.”
This is what Shanahan has been working toward throughout the 2011-12 season? Eliminating dirty plays, but only the ones that result in serious injury?
If that’s the case, then Weber’s measly $2,500 fine fits the bill. It’s a slap on the wrist for a play that Shanahan apparently deemed borderline but within reason. However, all we’ve heard all year is that the NHL wants plays like that eliminated. You don’t get to that point by warning guys.
You also don’t get to that point by taking into consideration how hurt the victimized player is.
Would Weber have earned a suspension if Zetterberg had been cut? What if he had wound up with a concussion? Or, just for argument’s sake, what if that play had occurred against a guy like Sidney Crosby — a star player with a concussion history?
The point is that Shanahan’s punishments shouldn’t rely on extraneous factors like that. A gutless, dangerous play is a gutless, dangerous play, no matter the result.
Wings fans, of course, are very familiar with the game changing come playoff time. Remember back to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, during a postseason when the NHL had come out and taken the stance that any player instigating a fight at the end of a game would be punished.
Then Evgeni Malkin jumped Zetterberg as the final seconds ticked away in Game 2, and the NHL let him off the hook because he didn’t have any prior incidents.
I’m also not sure Shanahan is aware of the potential Pandora’s box that he opened with Thursday’s show of leniency. By essentially clearing Weber, Shanahan gave players free reign to take out their frustrations after the final whistle.
What’s to stop Detroit from giving Weber a shot or two at the end of Game 2, aside from fear of the NHL’s consistent displays of inconsistency?
Weber was hit with a two-minute roughing penalty for his attack, which came with no time on the clock in a game Nashville had already won. That certainly won’t serve as a deterrent for similar behavior in the future, nor will Shanahan’s cowardly response.
Brendan Shanahan has accomplished a ton during his career in hockey. But this was not his finest moment.