Monday, April 20, 2009

NHL Sending Mixed Signals

Word has come down from on high: Milan Lucic will miss tonight's critical Game Three in Montreal, having been suspended for his cross-check on Maxim Lapierre late in Sunday's game.

Here's video of the incident:

Worthy of suspension? Maybe. It's a borderline case, but given the recent history between the Habs and Bruins -- and specifically the violence involving Lucic -- it's not a surprise that he will sit for a game. The alternative would be to invite an even more violent retaliation from Montreal, which would in turn spark something akin to World War III.

And, after all, a smarter move would've been to drop the stick first.

So it's not the fact of the suspension that might raise an eyebrow or two, but the timing and the context. Why this incident, but not any of 20 others that seemed more flagrant and intentional?

More to the point, why has Colin Campbell waited to act until this relatively minor incident?

Where was the supplementary discipline on April 9, when Komisarek nearly drove Lucic head-first into the boards and was in turn mauled from behind? Both players could have been seriously injured, and the media firestorm would have been excruciating.

Where was Campbell when Lapierre purposelessly attacked Phil Kessel after Game 1's empty-net clincher? That seems more significant in terms of keeping the feud under a boil.

Where was the league's opinion when Matt Hunwick had his eyes gouged by Komisarek with only seconds left in Game 1? After a season of blowing smoke about "message sending", Campbell failed to act when a genuine test case presented itself.

Perhaps most importantly, in what possible way could this have been the most significant "blow to the head" in a series positively overstuffed with late, high, dangerous hits that will eventually cause injury?

There are no reasonable answers to these questions, nor can we expect the league to hold itself accountable for any of them. Even its hedging explanation of the Lucic decision prompted far more followup questions than it answered.

Sooner or later, Campbell's office needs to go back to Square One and issue clear, firm directives about the purpose and application of supplementary discipline. No more playing politics, no more posing for the media. Players' careers and lives are at stake when a dangerous incident takes place, and they deserve better than a Magic 8-Ball approach to rule enforcement.

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