The NHL did a lot of things right when they hired Brendan Shanahan as head of the NHL Department of Player Safety. The creation of the department was a good idea and does a better job than the Colin Campbell ran “Wheel of Justice.” However there is still one thing that eludes the league in terms of suspending players—consistency and precedent.
It is hard to judge hits and take players out of the lineup based on judgment calls, each hit has its own fingerprint but like family members that are identified through facial features and genetics so too can hits, and the league has seen many hits to know of a situational similarity.
The Montreal Canadians’ Douglas Murray hit on Tampa Bay Lightning’s Mike Kostka is no different as it has some striking similarities to Buffalo Sabres’ John Scott’s hit earlier this year. Scott reached out with just enough to take down Boston Bruins’ Loui Eriksson and Shanahan gave Scott a seven game suspension, as a first time offender, as the head was the principle point of contact.
Brendan Shanahan said in the Scott video, “and while this is not an elbow to the head, the follow through that occurs after contact indicates to us a significant level of force delivered on this illegal check to the head.”
Scott didn’t throw up an elbow like Murray did, he is 6’8 and used his shoulder but there are many similarities in the hit.
Kostka didn’t make a sudden move, same as Loui Eriksson, and unlike Scott who didn’t throw an elbow, Murray did. In the Murray video, the league uses words like “launched” and “picking the head with an extended arm” as in, he threw an elbow, which elbowing is already against the rules. They used no such verbiage in the harsher Scott suspension video.
John Scott gets seven games due to a hit on the follow through but Douglas Murray can “pick the head with an extended arm” and it’s only three games. The issue here is in the 31 illegal check to the head suspensions, the league has handed out three-game suspensions thirteen times but in Scott’s case it went to seven, when with all due respect to Murray, Murray should have gotten the seven games. Kostka got knocked out on the ice and lay motionless on the ice.
No hit is the same, but honestly if one were in a vacuum and shown these hits, they would see what fans in Tampa saw on Tuesday night, the Murray hit was worse but a few measures.
The question is why doesn’t the league follow its own videos and precedent that they lay down? As mentioned before, in 31 illegal checks to the head penalties the league handed out three-game penalties thirteen times. That solves the consistency problem now they just need to work on the precedent.
It seems like the league needs to address this issue in one of two ways, say each hit is a case by case basis, which they have leaned towards but never came out and said it, or have someone go and fire up the DVR and rewatch old Shanny videos so they can remember why they gave certain players certain suspensions because clearly they have a short term memory loss.
The league has made stretches in terms of protecting their players and changing the way the game is played, but the façade of the suspensions needs to end. Either build off previous suspensions and have precedent or just admit that the number comes out of a hat.