BOSTON (CBS) — The Devils are scrapping for a playoff spot and will more than likely be without Anton Volchenkov for a handful of games in the season’s final stretch.
The Bruins hope to compete for the Stanley Cup, but they could be without their leading goal scorer for the same time or perhaps even longer.
Sound like a fair trade-off to you?
It is not, of course, and it’s the latest on-ice example that even though Brendan Shanahan does his job roughly 500 percent better than Colin Campbell did his, the NHL is just not doing enough to deter dirty, unnecessary hits that leave players dazed, woozy and in the locker room instead of on the ice. If the league were doing its job in that respect, then we wouldn’t have seen Volchenkov stare face-up at Marchand, lift out his left elbow and then direct it straight toward Marchand’s head in one of the most intentional head shots you’ll ever see.
Well, maybe you’d still see it — we can’t know that for sure. But if Nate Thompson and Joffrey Lupul got just two-game suspensions for what the league deemed to be “reckless” hits to the head, and if Rick Nash got zero games for an elbow to the back of a head, why would a guy like Volchenkov feel the need to think twice about a hit like that?
If Corey Perry had gotten more than just four games for the second-most vicious hit of the NHL season, and if Harry Zolnierczyk had gotten more than five games for the very worst of the year, maybe the message would be clear.
But it’s not. It keeps happening, and players keep going down. Shanahan developed a reputation for having almost no tolerance for any illegal and dangerous hits when he took over for Campbell at the start of the 2011 season. He was dishing out 10- and 12-game suspensions in the preseason, and he made five-game suspensions for elbowing the norm in the regular season.
But somewhere along the long, the “Shanahammer” lost his punch. The longest suspension of this season was five games, when Patrick Kaleta boarded Brad Richards and could’ve broken the guy’s neck. But the neck didn’t break, so it was just five games.
The average length of suspensions handed out this year: two games. That’s not getting it done.
Still, even if Volchenkov gets double that, it’s not going to help Marchand heal any faster from what looked to be a concussion. And it won’t help the Bruins as they vie for the Northeast Division crown against the Canadiens before beginning what they hope to be a long playoff run. Without Marchand, that already-difficult task becomes exponentially harder.
And really, even if Volchenkov is suspended for the final eight games of New Jersey’s season (almost guaranteed not to happen, but play along), how badly will he be missed?
Consider that Marchand has scored 16 goals in 38 games this year. Volchenkov has scored 19 goals in his 590-game NHL career.
There’s no way that any suspension on Volchenkov can really make things right for Boston, but it’s the fact that the hit even happened — that Volchenkov thought it’d be an OK idea to throw his elbow directly into an opponent’s head — that is the problem. It’s what you get when there’s no deterrent.
Things aren’t quite as bad as they were during the Campbell era, but when a guy’s lying face down on the ice and grabbing his head after a hit that did not have to happen, what’s the difference?
After the Volchenkov hit, many Bruins fans were rightfully upset, but all of their anger wasn’t directed at Volchenkov. Rather, many passionate tweets were fired off, upset with the Bruins’ lack of “response.” Whether that “response” meant jumping Volchenkov and getting a two-minute minor, five-minute major and 10-minute misconduct, or whether it meant sending Shawn Thornton over the boards on the next shift to meaninglessly punch someone in a red jersey who did nothing wrong, or whether it meant taking an eye-for-an-eye mentality and injuring a Devils player, I don’t know.
What I do know is that the anger was misdirected. The reason to be angry is that Volchenkov had little reason to believe he should not elbow Marchand in the head. And no matter what they did, the Bruins were going to come out on the short end of that situation. Just ask Marchand.
The biggest problem when Campbell was in charge and had no clue how to manage league discipline was that players were left to be the sole distributors of “justice.” That type of system doesn’t usually lead to a Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, but it does combine all the ingredients that led to that awful incident from 2004, throws it together into a 200-by-85-foot glass-encased sheet of ice and says, “Hey, let’s see what happens.”
Shanahan, who no longer even appears or talks in his suspension videos and instead tweets out links to puff pieces about the great work he does, is letting the league slip much closer to those days than the brief period of the Shanahammer last year.
His job is simple: Let players know, without any shreds of doubt, what is not tolerated on the ice. Cross the line, and you get punished — much more than a two-game slap on the wrist.
Until Shanahan actually starts doing that, elbows like Volchenkov will continue to fly, and players like Marchand will remain in the quiet room.
Update: Volchenkov was suspended four games by the NHL.