The NHL's Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday that Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber was fined $2,500 — the maximum allowed under the CBA! — for this head-smashing moment at the end of Game 1 involving Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings:
Weber was given a minor penalty for roughing. The justification via the NHL:
"We felt this was a reckless and reactionary play on which Weber threw a glancing punch and then shoved Zetterberg's head into the glass," said NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan. "We reached out to Detroit following the game and were informed that Zetterberg did not suffer an apparent injury and should be in the lineup for Game 2."
Indeed, Zetterberg was OK on Thursday morning after the incident, which didn't look all that injurious (thanks, helmet) as it did completely asinine and reckless. Shanahan continued:
"This play and the fine that addressed it will be significant factors in assessing any incidents involving Shea Weber throughout the remainder of the playoffs."
Yeah, about that: This is now Weber's second fine of the 2011-12 NHL season, having already been dinged back in October for a boarding call on Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks. That one felt like a clear suspension at the time, but Weber successfully argued his case and got off with a fine.
That one should have been his mulligan … and yet now, another fine, with a stern warning to be in his best behavior the rest of the way. So Shea Weber has two strikes — how many other players have been afforded such leeway?
The NHL's justifications are understandable, like there having been no injury on the play and that it was a "reactionary play" from Weber after Zetterberg nailed him with a questionable hit moments sooner. (Also, that the punch he missed with was arguably worse that the head-slam.)
But this should have been a suspension, and the reason it wasn't speaks to a philosophical gap that exists between the Department of Player Safety's approach in the regular season and its role in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Under Brendan Shanahan, the Department of Player Safety's mantra has been to educate players on what is and is not allowed under the current rules, and to really crack down on the minority of repeat offenders in this league until behavior changes.
To that end, the notion of "punishing" players that aren't in that group of reckless offenders, and their teams, has never been the goal.
Shea Weber did something reckless, intentional, potentially injurious and completely embarrassing to the league Wednesday night. Grabbing an opponent's head and slamming it into the glass is a WWE-level moment of unsportsmanlike conduct that turns the end boards into Hell in a Cell.
But would suspending him change the behavior of another player? Would it educate the masses about the types of hits that aren't allowed; like, say, suspending Byron Bitz for a head-shot boarding call on Kyle Clifford will?
No. Nor would suspending Weber take a scurrilous repeat offender to task, because he plays on the edge but rarely over it.
Suspending Weber would have been removing the best defenseman in the NHL (on my ballot, at least) from his team for a minimum of one game in the Western Conference playoff quarterfinals. It would have given the Detroit Red Wings a chance to even the score. It could have changed the dynamic of the series.
And it would have been the right thing to do.
But the stakes are different in this decision, due to the playoffs and due to Weber. It's undeniable that context didn't affect this decision. As Shanahan told ESPN.com during the GM Meetings:
"The standard of what is illegal or legal doesn't change. ... When you suspend a player during the regular season, you're suspending him over 82 games," Shanahan said at the time. "[In the playoffs], you're looking at things in seven-game clumps. It's a seven-game season each series."
Which brings us back to the philosophical dilemma facing the Department of Player Safety: 82 games of preventative discipline worked really, really well; but the playoffs are a punitive place.
The fine signals that the NHL wasn't happy with Weber; the lack of suspension signals that because of the player, the team, the circumstances and the lack of injury, what was a clear-as-day suspension-worthy play for any number of NHL players isn't one for Shea Weber.
There's probably a sentiment in the NHL that suspending him would have been egregious and pointless within the scope of the Dept. of Player Safety's objectives. That the conversation's over the second it appears Zetterberg is OK for Game 2.
But when we reach the era of soccer-style feigned injuries and teams playing around with medical reports just to earn an eye-for-an-eye playoffs suspension for a play that warranted one, think back to Shea Weber paying $2,500 from his $7.5 million salary for smashing Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass.
(Luckily, he didn't swear about the Penguins in a postgame press conference, or else we're talking a good $7,500 more out of pocket.)
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