By Allan Muir
It’s clear that Brendan Shanahan hit Patrick Kaleta a lot harder than the Buffalo winger hit Brad Richards.
So why does the five-game suspension that Shanahan imposed on Monday afternoon feel like a slap on the wrist?
Not that anyone should be surprised by this verdict, especially in the wake of last week’s soft touch fine handed down to Dallas’ Jamie Benn. Shanny telegraphed this decision when he offered Kaleta a phone hearing, a format that ensured the sentence couldn’t be more than five games. That’s a significant number because a provision in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows a player to appeal any suspension above that level to an independent arbitrator.
And yet all the elements in play with this situation cried out for that line to be crossed. Seeing this result, instead of eight or 10 games, it’s fair to wonder if Shanahan was trying to avoid turning this incident into the test case. Was he worried that Richards’ return to the game and the absence of a serious injury would undermine his ruling in the eyes of the arbiter and, by extension, call his other rulings into question? Sure feels that way, doesn’t it?
What Shanahan should have considered was the one overriding element of this incident: Kaleta is a repeat offender who has twice been suspended previously. He’s the definition of a reckless player, epitomizing a dangerous style that everyone says they want out of the game. Here’s a chance to make a statement and Shanny offers up a harshly worded “tsk-tsk.”
Look at the play (VIDEO). There’s nothing bang-bang about it, no way Kaleta could claim that he was simply following through on a hit and things went bad at the last instant. Kaleta had no chance to make a play on Richards or the puck, so he pushed him face-first into the boards.
Shanahan recognized that much, noting that “Kaleta was in full control of this play and had ample opportunity to make a better decision.”
The same will be said about Shanny after this one.