By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Anybody who’s spent even forty seconds studying supplemental discipline in the NHL knows that the word “precedent” is one that can almost never be applied universally to any one act that takes place on the ice. Trying to forecast how and why a player will face the wrath of the NHL’s department of player safety is an inexact science, one which requires guesswork and speculation as much as it does an examination of recent history.READ MORE: 12 Firefighters Treated For Chemical Burns After Fire In Cambridge
Nevertheless, past decisions are all we have when it comes to gauging and assessing how correct or incorrect the league rules on new decisions.
The newest decision involves Brad Marchand, who will not be facing a suspension or a fine for his impolite punch to the back of the head of Scott Harrington. The NHL has ruled this way, and all of those hockey fans across the continent who were frothing at the mouth at the mere thought of Marchand getting suspended will surely accept the ruling, state that the NHL department of player safety knows what it’s doing, and go along with their lives. Right?
OK, maybe not. Many people who watched a late, unnecessary jab to the back of an unsuspecting opponent’s head will remain outraged and will continue to spew conspiracy theories about how and why the Bruins receive preferential treatment. “Angry” is generally the default setting of those who choose to go online these days.
In order to try to invoke some reason and data to better assess the league’s decision in this matter, let’s dive into some disciplinary decisions made in the postseason to try to determine if Marchand will get the suspension that so many in the hockey world are bloodthirsty to see him receive.
In terms of Bruins involvement in postseason suspension history, many minds went directly to Scott Walker’s sucker punch of Aaron Ward during the 2009 playoffs.
That was pretty bad! It did not result in a suspension. Walker ended up scoring the series-winning goal in overtime two games later. That punch would qualify as more violent and more dangerous than what Marchand did to Harrington. (But Ward was at least in theory in position to be able to defend himself? Maybe? Unsure.)
Perhaps a more comparable Bruins event from that same 2009 postseason came from Milan Lucic, who was actually suspended for a playoff game for this shot to the head of Maxim Lapierre:
Lucic ended up getting suspended one game for that incident, as the NHL ruled that he had cross-checked an opponent in the head. Closer examination of the video shows that Lucic more likely punched Lapierre in the head, before the stick slid up to make contact with Lapierre’s head, but that didn’t matter to the league.
“While it is unclear whether Lucic’s glove or stick makes contact with Lapierre, what is clear is that he delivered a reckless and forceful blow to the head of his opponent,” Colin Campbell, then in charge of disciplinary matters, said in the explanation.
Those matters, though, are ancient history. Campbell left the post in 2011, replaced by Brendan Shanahan, who revolutionized the entire process of NHL discipline and turned it into its own little cottage industry.
Though the directors have changed from Shanahan to Stephane Quintal to George Parros, the direction and aim of the department of player safety has remained the same: analyze a hit, consider a player’s past transgressions, issue a fine or a suspension, make a video, share it with the world.
Generally speaking, the threshold for suspensions in the preseason is a lot different from the threshold for suspensions in the playoffs. Naturally, regular-season suspensions fall somewhere in the middle.
For the purpose of Marchand, we can look at postseason suspensions issued in recent years to see where and how Marchand’s punch compares.
From the 2013 postseason to the present day, the NHL has issued 26 suspensions that cost players games in the playoffs. Removing the outlier of Raffi Torres’ 25-game suspension (reduced to 21 games), those suspensions were for an average length of two games apiece. Most were for just one game.
Here’s a collection of the hits that resulted in suspension. Most involved hits to the head, and many involved cross-checks. Every hit has one thing in common: they were exceptionally violent. (Lucic getting that game in 2009 was a sign of the way suspensions would be issued in the postseason going forward.)
Joe Thornton was suspended one game for this shoulder-to-head hit:
Nazem Kadri was suspended between three and five games (it ended up being five) for this cross-check to the head:
Nikita Kucherov got one game for boarding:
Tom Wilson, a repeat offender, got three games for this hit:
Evander Kane got a game for this high cross-check:
Ryan Hartman got one game for this hit to the head:
Josh Morrissey got a game for this violent cross-check:
Kadri got three games for this hit:
Drew Doughty got one game for this high hit:
This one from Nick Ritchie is somewhat comparable to the most recent incident, in that it involved a punch. But this one would be filed under the Scott Walker category before it really aligns with Marchand. Ritchie got two games.
Columbus’ Matt Calvert got one game for this:
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare got a game for hitting Dmitry Orlov from behind:
Brayden Schenn got three games for charging:
Brooks Orpik was suspended three games for a late, high hit:
Kris Letang got one game for a high hit:
Niklas Kronwall got a game for launching through an opponent’s head:
Mike Rupp got four games (one regular season, three postseason) for a hit to the head:
Brent Seabrook was suspended for three games for charging:
Matt Cooke, a repeat offender 10 times over, got a hefty seven-game suspension for this knee-on-knee hit:
Brandon Bollig got two games for boarding:
Brandon Prust was suspended two games for this late, blind-side hit to the head:
John Moore got two games for this high hit:
Raffi Torres, another player with a long rap sheet, got 25 games (reduced to 21, including 13 playoff games) for leaping into this hit:
Arron Asham was suspended four games for cross-checking an opponent up high after that opponent had delivered a clean hit:
Watching those videos, the one common denominator is that essentially every hit that rose to a suspension-worthy level in the playoffs involved high-speed contact, generally to the head. Certainly the use of a stick to make that contact led to several suspensions.
In between those suspensions over the past seven postseasons, there have surely been countless instances of players throwing punches — gloved or otherwise — between whistles and during scrums. None have resulted in a suspension.
Based on that history, it’s easy to see why the NHL department of player safety did not deem Marchand’s punch to rise to the level of deserving a suspension.
Of course, the one significant difference with Marchand and most everyone else in the league is that, well, he’s Marchand. He’s had numerous conversations with the department of player safety over the years, so it remained possible that the department might have taken it personally for Marchand to seemingly go out of his way to draw attention to himself for this act. The fact that it took place outside of the flow of the game, the fact that it was totally unnecessary, the fact that it was delivered very late after the whistle, and the fact that it was delivered on a completely unsuspecting and thus defenseless opponent in a scenario where the other nine skaters had completely relented their aggressiveness on the play? Those all had to have been factors that were considered by the league.
Ultimately, though, even though the player involved wears No. 63 for the Bruins, the act on the ice didn’t even approach the level of violence and damage of what the league has determined to be worth a suspension in the playoffs.MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments