It is arguable how often adults are in the room when the NHL league offices are expected to make some type of disciplinary ruling.
Oh, there's a process to be followed and what-not, a load of pomp and circumstance and official decision-making... But then there's the boys-club moment where there's an understanding reached: we can look past this because we wouldn't want to miss the opportunity you're about to have, if the shoe was on the other foot.
There was an incident last night in the New York Rangers / Ottawa Senators game at Scotiabank Palace in Ottawa. Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators and Dan Girardi of the Rangers are at the center of this. The incident itself hasn't drawn my ire as-so-much the reaction from voices on the high:
M.Michalek may face sup disc for shoving (kicking)Girardi with his skate last night.Very similar to [Carolina Hurricanes Jeff Skinner] in March which earned 2 gm susp.
Following Skinner susp.Shanny said any intentional or reckless use of skate blade in this manner is dangerous and unacceptable.Similar acts.
Neither Michalek nor Skinner incidents look bad. But, precedent set. Can't use skate blade for this. Hard to take a guy out of gm 7 though.
(emphasis added by me)
For those unhappy with league discipline and officiating, Darren Dreger has been the messenger from executive suite in the league office before rulings take place. If not Dreger, then Bob McKenzie of TSN is the one providing the insider aspects. They're not just in the know; they have a rapport with the guys making the decisions...
And what we keep hearing from either messenger is why the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs, and previous seasons and playoffs for that matter, are so messed up: In matters of league discipline, the weight of the games are more important than enforcing the rules.
Playoffs game 7? Playoffs game 1? Preseason game 3? Regular season game 18? It shouldn't matter. If there was an offense that requires league discipline, it damn well should be levied. Rules and precedents aren't there to be arbitrarily acknowledged, they're supposed to be in place in an effort to guide the game and keep it from being disjointed, anything-goes anarchy.
Last season, Nathan Horton attacked a fan in the stands with a water-bottle after the game 6 loss by the Bruins at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals. The precedence of league action with such infractions was set a year earlier: no one should have any interaction like that with a fan. This had been stated explicitly by former head disciplinarian Colin Campbell:
"While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot - and will not - tolerate any physical contact with fans," league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement last night. "We do not take this action lightly."
But league empathy toward Horton won out - the weight of the next game was more important than the infraction. Horton was fined an undisclosed sum and allowed to play. And what happened? He was scored the only goal in game 7 and put the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
The lesson to take from Dreger's words and the league's own precedence of backtracking (because the game next game is so important) is thus: If you want to commit an infraction, save it for game 6 of a playoff series. Nobody wants to be that guy who takes a hard-ass stand on the rules, and you'll get a slap on the wrist.
It's a complete lack of leadership from the league office; a lack of an adult presence that rules from above the fray and does what's right (and often unpopular) by enforcing the rules rather than doing what will keep him popular.