Point/Counterpoint: The other side of Shanabanning

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Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair. This week, Nick D. and Bob H. square off over whether or not players who are constant victims of questionable hits should also feel the wrath of Brendan Shanahan.

First up, Nick: This season has seen a marked change in how the National Hockey League deals with infractions that are deemed suspension worthy. Shanahan has been doling out suspensions in an effort to change behavior, not just discipline players for their actions. Every suspension that has been given this season has an accompanying video to point out exactly why extra time was needed for the crime that was committed. The question that really needs to be asked going forward however is: if a player continually puts themselves in vulnerable positions or dives, should they be subject to supplemental discipline as well? For me the answer is yes.

A prime example is this hit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4N2FFxGmSw) by Mike Fisher on Patrick Kaleta. Fisher barely shoves Kaleta and he goes down like a sack of potatoes. It’s disgraceful on Kaleta’s part and shouldn’t be a part of the game. If he had been seriously injured on the play, Fisher would have had to wear that around his neck for the rest of his career, even if it really wasn’t his fault. If a game or two would have been handed down to Kaleta, he may have stopped these kinds of antics, but  here’s another example of him baiting an opponent by keeping his back slightly turned after he looks up to see the opponent coming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKaSKnrZHJA.

Bob H: Shanahan has a tough and ultimately thankless job, trying to sift through hours of video and attempting to match up his disciplinary plan with what he sees regarding each incident. As far as I know, the emphasis has been, and will be, solely on the aggressor in any given situation. That means, gauging intent only from the perspective of the victim in any given incident. The second he starts opening up interpretation to include potential thought given to the victim as the actual perpetrator, and allows for that kind of talk to creep in, he’s simply in a lose-lose situation every time out. So count me in the “no” column.

Look, I understand that there are two sides to the coin. If the skater who zeroes in on the impending illegal check in order to separate the man from the puck or the man’s head from the rest of his body can try to claim his advantage, so can the man on the other side of the play swing things to his advantage to make an action look worse than it really is. BUT…given the microscopic time-frames Shanahan is dealing with when trying to break down and assess blame in any given video, it’s all too easy to start reading into things with the opportunity to be able to play, pause, forward and reverse the tape.

Diving is simply a sportsmanship issue and should only be the realm of and left up to the discretion of the on-ice officiating crew. And if a player is dumb enough to intentionally put himself in harm’s way just to draw a major penalty/suspension from an opponent, then he should live with the consequences. Besides, there are far more examples of the marginal players in the league giving/receiving punishment that need to be straightened out, you can’t be worrying about the ones who treat each hit like Summer Stock theater.

Nick: It shouldn’t be limited to the agitators of the league. The elite players get calls, but sometimes they flop pretty badly or put themselves in dangerous situations. What if Sidney Crosby were mandated to sit out a game for this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9qTFhRsnvY&feature=related ? Look at this hit by David Koci on Mike Green http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9GjQ9CsrBI. Mike Green glances back and sees Koci flying in and decides to play the puck, but he turns his back to him when he really didn’t need to. This is not to say that Koci shouldn’t be suspended also, but that Green didn’t do anything to avoid the hit at all, in fact it seems as if he wanted Koci to follow through with the hit because of that little glance back.

This incident between Zdeno Chara and Brandon Prust http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjCmnLi9DZs may have been a different story if Chara had tried to play the puck instead of turning his back to make the play as Prust was already coming in for a check. Here’s Danny Briere getting boarded by Marc-Edouard Vlasic http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=71VQjwkhogg but if watch the video, Briere stops three feet away from the boards, essentially baiting a boarding penalty. A boarding penalty was not assessed on the play, and while it should have been, had Briere been subject to supplemental discipline, he probably would have tried to play the puck through Vlasic instead of shielding the puck.

Bob: If Sidney Crosby were forced to sit out of ANY game for ANY reason not related to injury or clinched playoff seeding, he’d have the Penguins front office, the NHLPA and the Board of Governors setting upon Shanahan’s office with pitchforks and torches as if Frankenstein’s monster were on the other side. The double standard exists, it always has, it always will so we need to simply get on with it.

I can’t dispute the video evidence you’ve shown, but again, since the onus remains on the attacking player, it’s incumbent upon him to take a different tack when meeting an opponent — and I believe that’s especially so if a player like Briere specifically presents himself as ready to absorb what he knows will be an illegal hit from an opponent. The hitter has to realize he’s being set up and lay off, play the puck and not the man.

I don’t believe for a second that it’s as cut-and-dried as players say, that the game moves so fast and emotions run so high that split-second decisions cannot be made: if a player can be indoctrinated from bantams up to the NHL in systematic play, he can also train himself to recognize when he’s being baited and lay off. There’s no loss of manhood or toughness cred if he does, and, most importantly, he will not be lighter in the wallet and having to take an unplanned vacation.

Nick:  At some point, players have to have some respect for themselves and the game as well. Certainly if puck pursuit were more important than finishing a check and interference was called the instant the puck was played instead of giving a one and a half to two second cushion, less of these types of hits would occur. That’s a valid point. But if players were subject to suspension for baiting and diving, then they wouldn’t put themselves in those situations and less of those types of hits would occur as well.

Bob: Nick, you ignorant slut. Keep beating that drum. Punishment for baiting and diving will do nothing more than fill the airwaves and the internets with a million useless arguments, recriminations and forced “conversations” on the subject of what constitutes “respect” and “baiting” an opponent. Add to that the furor that will be raised by the Players’ Association, Brian Burke’s usual contrarian stance on every little thing, and it turns into a gigantic soap opera. I mean, if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’ so I expect nothing to change in that regard…ever.