Whip-Shawed: NHL Commits Unforced Error With Shaw Suspension

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Photo: Washington Post

opinion  It’s one of the favorite pastimes amongst sports fans: debating suspensions. No matter what the sport or the infraction, there is never universal agreement when it comes to either the decision to or extent of suspending a player for infractions committed on or off the field. 

Depending on which camp one finds themselves in, the powers that be either made the right decision or a mockery of justice. But sometimes, the disciplinarians err in a way that can draw universal condemnation. This is one of those times.

For those who missed it, the NHL has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for boarding Capitals defenseman Connor Hobbs during Tuesday’s contest.

As the NHL Department of Player Safety outlined in their announcement, Shaw tracks Hobbs into the end-boards, likely in response to getting tangled up with Capitals center Jay Beagle earlier in his shift and “hits [Hobbs] through the numbers with speed”. Per the NHL: “Hobbs was never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment he arrives at the face-off dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement, just prior to contact, that turns this from a legal hit into an illegal one”.

Not mentioned in the NHL’s report was that after the hit Shaw, one of the league’s most notorious agitators, fought Capitals forward Nate Walker and even appeared to showboat during the combat by gesturing to the crowd. This is not factored into the NHL’s decision regarding this incident, but is worth mentioning in terms of contextualizing Shaw’s general pattern of questionable behavior and seeming absence of any regard for his actions on the ice.

For his indiscretion in illegally checking Hobbs, Shaw has been suspended three pre-season games, and herein lies the problem. There is likely to be some dispute about whether the duration of the ban was sufficient or excessive. But NHL fans writ large, to say nothing of sports fans in general, should be in broad agreement on the notion that whatever number of games a player is suspended for, the games should at least count. That Shaw’s punishment is limited only to the preseason serves to underscore the league’s failure to properly discipline a player with a notorious history for on-ice conduct that flirts with, if not overtly crosses, the line of acceptable behavior for a professional athlete.

And so in, the NHL just had it’s first mockery of justice for the upcoming season. As Monumental Network’s Mike Vogel rightly pointed out, the ruling not only fails to properly discourage dangerous hits, but the purposeful distinction of suspending the offender for pre-season contests that don’t have any meaningful significance fails to provide a reasonable deterrent to such behavior.

 

A dangerous precedent has been set that stands in direct opposition to the league’s commitment to player safety. That the offender in question is one of the league’s most controversial figures only casts further disgrace on the league for their handling of this incident. While it must be recognized that there exists an inherent subjectivity when it comes to the severity of suspensions, there is no excuse for giving players of any reputation a pass by issuing a ban limited to meaningless contests. One can only hope this miscarriage of justice is not a harbinger of things to come.

By Keith Leonard

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