Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wiz suspension: NHL leaves questions unanswered

Before I get rolling, let's make one thing clear: In no way will anything in this post change any of my feelings of disappointment toward James Wisniewski.  The Columbus Blue Jackets need Wiz on the ice, not munching nachos in the press box while his teammates try to cover for his absence.  Wiz needs to play smarter and avoid putting himself in situations where his temper gets the best of him.  Period, end of story.

There's more to the discussion than just that of Wisniewski's behavior, however. We also should take a look at the quality of administration of player discipline - to be fair to Wiz and his fellow players throughout the NHL.  That being said, let's go back to the tape.

That's the NHL/Brendan Shanahan analysis and explanation of the eight regular season game (and balance of the preseason, retroactive to Sunday) suspension given to James Wisniewski for his hit on Cal Clutterbuck.  

It leaves a number of unanswered questions.

In no particular order, my questions are:
  1. Jody Shelley, another repeat offender, made what appears to be a more vicious hit in the preseason and only received a suspension of five regular season games.  What makes the Wiz hit that much worse - that Wiz has to sit for eight regular season games?  Is it strictly because of the date on which the hit was delivered?  (Shelley - by virtue of making his hit earlier in the preseason, burned more preseason games.)  If that's the case, how can anyone logically explain that missing a preseason game is equivalent to missing a regular season game?  (Blue Jackets ticket office, you're not allowed to answer that last question.)
  2. In the above video, Shanahan said: "Earlier on this shift, Clutterbuck threw a check on Wisniewski's defensive partner. Wisniewski engaged in defense of his own teammate by knocking Clutterbuck down to the ice. While that may have led Wisniewski to believe he had to defend himself, that was not a justification for intentionally hitting a player in the head. If Wisniewski feels threatened, he must choose a different way to defend himself."  What, pray tell, would an acceptable "different way" be?  Putting the appropriateness of inserting that final sentence aside, it is wise to force players to grope in the dark for allowable ways to defend themselves?  Why not use the video as a teaching moment (which Shanahan clearly is doing, just not to its fullest extent) and point out allowable options?  
  3. Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior Vice President
    of Player Safety and Hockey Operations
  4. (Thanks to Puck Daddy for pointing this one out)  Why did Shanahan totally avoid the question raised by Wiz, that of Clutterbuck's alleged embellishment?  Why not say, "Wisniewski suggests Clutterbuck dove; I disagree"?  Does this not encourage diving and other forms of embellishment? Think about it: Do we really want the National Hockey League to become a bunch of Vancouver Canucks?  
The NHL is letting Shanahan leverage his former star power and current popularity - along with flashy video graphics - to imply a heightened sense of legitimacy in its disciplinary decisions.  And the videos ARE helpful and educational (if not entirely complete in the education offered) to average fans like yours truly.  

With the Wisniewski suspension, however, Shanahan has quickly shown a lack of regard for precedence, a deaf ear toward player assertions made when defending their actions and an inability to use his bully pulpit and fancy technology to suggest what IS allowable even when implying that an alternate expression of behavior would have been tolerated.  As such, I assert that there is a very compelling argument to be made that the Wisniewski suspension and its supporting explanation was flawed.  This is troubling.  

Shanahan seems bright enough to do a reasonably good job as NHL discipline czar, but he is not infallible.  I hope he learns the lessons that can be drawn from his first couple weeks on the job - many of which can come from the questions raised by his handling of the James Wisniewski hit on Cal Clutterbuck.  


  1. Good one DBJ. The key will be when an All-Star hits a defenseless nobody. What will happen?

    Chara may as well not play, as anytime he makes contact its at the opponents head, simply due to his size.

    I still think the NHL should look have suspensions result in losing that roster spot for the suspension (dress 19, rather than 20). This will force teams to start policing their own players. Somehow I don't think Super Mario would tolerate Matt Cooke. It would also, eliminate the real goons from the league, as teams would avoid having them on their roster.

  2. Thank you, Anon.

    While I agree that the "All-Star hitting a defenseless nobody" scenario will be telling, I feel that the already emerging body of comparable work is proving hard to defend. You just can't tell me that Shelley's hit is lesser than Wiz's hit (or Staublitz's hit on Bass in the CBJ-Wild game, but Staublitz isn't in the NHL 'repeat offender' doghouse like Shelley and Wiz are).

    Shanahan's only self-serving way out is to say that he will not take comparables into account, but that's not going to fly when he has a body of lengthy film session analyses posted online for media and fans to dissect.

    Thus, I hope he learns from what appears to be a pretty big mistake in the Wiz suspension. This isn't the easy way out, but it's an honorable way.

  3. kinda weird how all of the sudden head shot need to be out of our game and so hideous ... what changed all that from the past hundred years ... ? oh wait ... yea thats right Sid the kid got one...

    now it all makes sense ... everyone else prior ... meh ... get well soon


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