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The taint on the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot do a make-up call for a non-suspension by not suspending someone else for a different rule infraction that should have resulted in a suspension.

The Wheel of Justice and Club Two-Minutes lack of consistency and lack of testicular fortitude have been well on displaying during the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. Most recently was Alexandre Burrows being allowed to bite Patrice Bergeron during Game 1 of the Cup Finals with no disciplinary action for the offense.

What makes this worse was Burrows scoring two goals, including the game-winning goal, during game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

A game Burrows should have been suspended for.

For another example, let’s flash back to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. After the conclusion of Tampa Bay’s win, Nathan Horton sprayed a fan in the stands at the St. Pete Times Forum with water, and threw a bottle at the fan. This was a crossing of the proverbial invisible boundary between fans and players. It’s a line that should never be crossed unless a player is physically confronted by a rowdy fan. It was also stressed as a line not to be crossed by former NHL head disciplinarian Colin Campbell, who was still on the job at the time of the Horton infraction.

A statement from Campbell in the past stressed that interactions like the one Horton was involved with should not be tolerated:

“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.”

Horton was not suspended for his antics, and discipline handed down by the NHL (a fine) was done after the end result of game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals: Horton scoring the lone goal in Boston’s 1-0, series clinching win over the Lightning.

A game Horton should have been suspended for.

There are other incidents throughout the NHL playoffs (and I do not believe in the slightest a case cannot be made against the Tampa Bay Lightning for any one of them). But these two incidents, and non-action against each player, taints the playoffs.

Rules are made to be enforced. Some sports officials and leagues in general enforce them in a draconian fashion where there is zero tolerance for even appearing to break a rule. The National Football League is famous for its strict policies. It’s done not just for consistency, but for the sake of the integrity of the sport.

Meanwhile, other leagues (hello, NHL) are more willing to bend or forgo the rules to endorse the “let them play” mentality: Fewer penalties, more continuity in the game, keeping it from referees deciding a game. Everyone is happy, from casual fans to the TV networks.

But the integrity of the game suffers. Selective rule enforcement gives the appearance of partiality or apathy toward rules in general. And when they happen on such a grand stage as the NHL playoffs? What are fans supposed to think?

Brendan Shanahan will be taking over the league disciplinary job with the conclusion of the NHL season, and he has his work cut out for him. The missed calls, the non-calls, the perception of partiality, and the fabled Wheel of Justice – it all needs to be rectified, or at least repaired to the point that “NHL disciplinary action” doesn’t seem like a running joke.

The 2011 NHL playoffs in general can be seen as Colin Campbell’s legacy – one inconsistent jumble where rules are subjective at best, to be enforced only at the convenience of on-ice officials and the league itself.

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