Violence, in particular of a headshot variety, has become, along with potential upsets, the primary story of the first round of these 2012 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Shanahan's reaction to the first of the postseason headshots was so weak that some players seem to have gotten it into their heads that lengthy punishments would not be the order of the day. And they're right.
Shea Weber: Miniscule fine, no message sent
That became clear April 11, opening night of the playoffs when Nashville Predator Shea Weber grabbed Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg's head and slammed
it hard into the plexiglass, hard enough to crack the Red Wing star's helmet. Shanahan's response was to fine Weber $2500; given the Preds all-star made $7.5 million
this season, to him it was the cost equivalent of a pack of hockey cards.
In his ruling Shanahan said he took into account that Zetterberg was well enough to play the next game, foolishly suggesting injury time is related to suspension time, which has never been the case before. By that yardstick Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks would still be out, given Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks hasn't returned since Keith intentionally took a run at him and slammed his elbow into his head in March.
The decision to let Weber off may be political as the league likely wants Nashville to succeed to help solidify their fanbase. After all,they allowed forward Alexander Radulov to play, even though he walked away
from a valid NHL contract 4 years ago and played the regular season this year, and intends to play the regular season next year, in the KHL.
NHL 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs: headshots in vogue
Following the league's weak response we've had a run of nasty play, with at least four headshots standing out, one so vicious Shanahan acted by handing New York Ranger Carl Hagelin 3 games for knocking Ottawa Senator captain Daniel Alfredsson out of game 2 of their series. In his customary video release of the hit Shanahan said "Hagelin finishes his check with his arm high, recklessly striking Alfredsson on the side of the head." Those words are underplay of the highest order, it was Hagelin targeting an opponent and ramming his elbow into his head.
After Canuck Aaron Rome got 4 games in the Stanley Cup final last season for an open-ice hit on Nathan Horton, no elbow, no head target, one would expect Hagelin to get more for a text-book offering of the kind of vicious hit they've been telling players since September won't be tolerated. The Rangers issued a statement saying they were confused by the ruling and given that Weber didn't get a single game, there's reason to be sympathetic with them, though hardly because Hagelin was suspended.
Brendan Shanahan reputation diminishes
There was a fistful of fights and headshots over the weekend, the match-ups getting progressively nastier. Brian Boyle and the New York Rangers attacked Eric Karlsson, an attempt to target a pivotal player; Arron Asham of the Penguins went ballistic on Flyer Brayden Schenn and will surely draw a lengthy suspension; Blackhawk Andrew Shaw ran Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, ramming his shoulder into Smith's head and James Neal of the Pens made two questionable hits.
In the final game of the weekend, Los Angeles King Dustin Brown, who is playing exceptionally and doesn't need to reduce himself to dirty play to help his team, targeted Henrik Sedin of the Canucks, hitting him at the bottom of the chin, a play that could have been called interference - the puck was long gone - charging or intent to injure, but went uncalled.
Naturally a fight, or more than one, ensued.
Fighting is a part of playoff hockey, emotions and tempo with hitting are mainstays, but recklessly endangering an opponents ability to fully partake in life, let alone hockey, should not be part of it. Maybe some GMs are getting to Shanahan, others not, it's hard to pinpoint why Weber was let off or Keith and Hagelin received so little given their obvious intent to injure, but it's not hard to pinpoint what it has lead to: a 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs that has turned into a gong show. The shackles are off and some players are chomping at the bit to play dirty hockey.
Former NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell proved inept at the job, though it took years to get rid of him, but initially it seemed that Brendan Shanahan might be a capable replacement. That assessment, thanks to the first round of these playoffs, is now very much in doubt.