Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Point of NHL Suspensions and Wolski's Non-Suspension

Speaking to the NHL Network Wednesday, Brendan Shanahan made the following statement as support for his decision not to suspend New York Ranger Wojtek Wolski for his hit on Ottawa Senator Daniel Alfredsson.

Wolski’s not a dirty player, and has no history of being a dirty player. There are collisions that occur on the ice where, unfortunately, one player sees it just prior.
We’ve seen enough of these now, and I don’t like these, but seen enough of them where when one player sees (the hit) just prior, he tenses up. And sometimes he even leans in, because he’s bracing for an impact.

When both guys see it, it’s two guys tensing up and they bounce off each other and everybody’s fine. It’s really unfortunate here, when one player doesn’t see it and the other guy does.

Now, if I felt this was intentional, or if it wasn’t at the last instant, just prior. (If) I might have felt there was any kind of sneakiness or history of these types of offences for Wolski, he would have been suspended.
What Shanahan is saying is that this hit was not suspendable because it’s the type of hit that was unavoidable. It was an inadvertent “collision” between two players rather than one player looking to hit another player. And in cases like that, there is no point in suspending a player since the point of a suspension is to discourage illegal hits and not hits that flow naturally from the game that can’t be avoided. As he said in the first instance, it was a “hockey hit”. Since it was a "last instant" hockey hit that can't be avoided, a suspension wasn’t warranted.

The logic is sound – suspensions are designed to deter on ice behaviour that players to a certain extent can control. Suspending players for inadvertent collisions on the ice won’t deter the behaviour.

Some hits are “hockey hits” as characterized by Shanahan, and these hits are basically immune to being deterred by way of suspensions.

While the underlying logic is sound, I have difficulty with the conclusion that Wolski was bracing himself for the collision and that he did not intentionally hit Alfredsson. The video of the hit, which can be found here, suggests that Wolski’s hit was more than an inadvertent collision that Wolski was bracing himself for. It seems that Wolski changed direction to hit an unsuspecting Alfredsson, who had already dished off the puck. Perhaps Wolski did not intend the head shot; however, that is irrelevant. Under those circumstances, Wolski is responsible for any damage that flows from the hit.

Shanahan played the game for many years and is blessed with insight that many of us do not have – or will ever have. Shanahan’s opinions are respected – and as they should be. It just seems like this one hit is open to a different interpretation. And if it is, the prudent election would be to err on the side of caution.

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