Saturday, 14 December 2013

Officious Space: Steve Downie and Suspension Bait

David Clarkson became the first member of the Toronto Maple Leafs to double-dip in suspensions this year. Normally I would respond to David Clarkson's latest suspension by pointing out another incident that was worse and yet didn't merit disciplinary action.

Doing so, however, would suggest that I have some hope that the deluge of suspensions that have inundated the NHL this year would crest when Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan realized that the game hasn't become safer: rather, it's just becoming more officious.

Instead, Bettman has recently showed confidence in Shanahan's jurisprudence, which means there's no chance that we'll see a decline in the number of suspensions handed out this year. So, if the NHL isn't going to put its collective whistle away, I think that it should at least dole out damages for all types of head injuries--real and feigned.

Following a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens on December 12, there was speculation that Alexei Emelin would be suspended for elbowing Steve Downie.

Here's the video of the incident:

Habs fans were probably relieved when Emelin didn't get a summons from Shanahan, but they should probably be pushing for Downie to get a hearing. Based on his suspect reaction to the play--flailing and then throwing himself to the ice moments after getting hit--he should be required to explain his actions to the Department of Player Safety.

Suspensions are becoming a serious concern for NHL players as penal leaves-of-absence reduce their salary, brand them as pariahs, and make them susceptible for lengthier subsequent suspensions. They also probably cause a hostile environment in the dressing room by hindering team chemistry as ad hoc forward lines and defensive pairings have to be drafted in the absence of a core player. 

Moreover, struggling teams probably resent teammates who further erode the club's chances of making the playoffs by getting seated by Shanahan.

Meanwhile, a new form of pariah seems to be emerging: the player who fakes an injury in order to get an opponent ejected from the game. If the NHL wants to take headshots seriously, then it should consider suspending players who feign head injuries just to get an unfair advantage in a game at the expense of a colleague's personal and professional reputation as well as his finances.

Since the NHL insists that illegal checks to the head merit a penalty in the game as well as a suspension, then embellishers should similarly be given a two-minute penalty and a suspension if they feign a head injury.

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