By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Does the NHL really care about player safety? It’s a question that’s been earnestly asked for a decade now, ever since the policing of dangerous and predatory hits has been taken to new levels. But it’s one where the answers generally fall all across the board.

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The most recent on-ice incident that’s being excused by the NHL would seemingly answer that question with a big fat “no.”

Midway through the second period of Thursday night’s Canadiens-Blue Jackets game, as Andrew Shaw was trying to exit the Columbus zone to allow a teammate to cross the blue line, he collided with Columbus defenseman Adam McQuaid. Prior to that collision, Shaw seemingly braced himself for contact by extending his elbow — an elbow that landed directly on McQuaid’s head.

McQuaid stands at 6-foot-4, while Shaw is just 5-foot-11. McQuaid was hunched down a bit in his defensive stance, but typically, a shorter player does not land an elbow to the head of a much taller player simply by accident.

Perhaps, though, Shaw’s elbow-to-head contact was completely accidental, a bad result of an honest play. That is an argument that Shaw could have tried to make in a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety in his hearing on the play — a play which forced McQuaid out of the game.

“Suspendable,” Columbus head coach John Tortorella said. “Ridiculously suspendable”

Alas, Shaw will not need to convince the NHL powers that be that his elbow to McQuaid’s head was an accident. Because Shaw will not have a hearing.

The NHL decided that the two-minute minor penalty for interference assessed to Shaw was sufficient punishment.

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It is far from the first questionable decision from George Parros and the department of player safety.

Shaw has been suspended before, most recently for a boarding penalty in the 2016 preseason — a hit that drew a three-game ban for Shaw. The play had a bad result — a head injury. It involved a player who was in a position where he never should have felt or assumed or seen impending contact, as he skated backward into his own zone.

At the very least, the NHL could have done its due diligence by investigating the play further. Instead, it is now on the record as a play that’s allowable on the ice. If another player wants to try something similar — a blind-side flying elbow to the side of an unsuspecting defenseman’s head — then he now has the authority to give it a whirl.

Again, the business of analyzing. assessing, critiquing and getting outraged over the decisions of the department of player safety is one that never ends. Folks are always going to be upset one way or another, and it’s most certainly a difficult job for those tasked with trying to gauge the intent of players who partake in the fastest game on earth, a sport that allows and embraces physical contact. It’s impossible to get everything right in that scenario. And in this case, the GIF that spread rapidly on Twitter ignored the situation of the play, which involved a player bursting toward the neutral zone in an effort to clear the zone. It remains possible that Shaw’s intentions were not malicious.

But certainly, NHL players have been suspended for much less. And this one? There truly would have been no harm in talking to the player involved, in an effort to at the very least try to ensure that a hit to the head was not the result of a direct targeting or an intent to injure. The Canadiens and Blue Jackets are in the middle of a three-team race to secure the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, after all. And Shaw clearly had the massive McQuaid in his line of vision the entire time while exiting the zone. The player at the very least should be required to explain himself after a hit like that.

By declining to even subject Shaw to a hearing, the NHL is essentially choosing to say, “Well, he probably didn’t mean it.”

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And so, once more, yet again, the question must be asked. Does the NHL really care about player safety? Absent a thorough explanation on decisions like this one, we are left to generate our own answers.