Tame the Beast
I remember during last year's Stanley Cup Final, I said the behavior exhibited by the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins was downright disgraceful. In an unbelievable turn of events, what happened yesterday afternoon between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins made that series' events look tame.
The Penguins completely unraveled, had zero focus, and they started taking runs at the Flyers' centers because they simply were not winning the battle. Not even close. Many problems exist with yesterday's debacle in game three, but the largest ones that loom over the league are discipline, and the organizaitonal identity of the Penguins.
At this moment we know that Arron Asham and James Neal are in line for potential Shanahanigans (credit @Steve_Dangle for enlightening me to that term) for their reckless hits. Brayden Schenn delivered a clean hit along the half wall on Paul Martin, and Asham retaliated to defend his teammate. Unfortunately, said defense was a powerful cross check to the throat.
Neal delivered a reckless check, leaving his feet to attack Sean Couturier's head, with the puck 20 feet away from the play, and Couturier looking the other way. Neal said he "didn't mean" to attack Couturier, which is a load of malarkey. Just a few minutes later, Neal struck again, going all the way across the ice at full speed, leaving his feet (again) to take Claude Giroux's head off. Giroux was left woozy from the attack, but he would be okay.
The fact that all three centermen are all fine is good for the Flyers, but it's not a good thing for the disciplinarian of the NHL, Brendan Shanahan, and for the perception of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'll start with discipline.
Shanahan has lost control of the playoffs. His decisions on Asham, Neal and Adams will resound loudly and will likely be the precedent for the rest of the playoffs. Currently, it seems like head hits that injure will be 3 games, but ones that don't injure (i.e. Shea Weber) have been interpreted as a league maximum fine of a whopping $2,500.
Neal has two hearings, one for each incident. Asham's hearing is in person, meaning he will get more than five games. Adams has an automatic one-game suspension, unless the league rescinds it under the interpretation of the third-man-in rule. The Penguins are on the brink of elimination. Does Shanahan suspend them all and put the Penguins at a disadvantage at their darkest hour? Does he lighten up for mercy's sake?
Or does he finally send a message because these acts were flagrant fouls?
We've been waiting forever and a day for the message to be sent. With Shanahan, we were almost promised a no nonsense, message sending style that was the opposite of Colin Campbell's style. We haven't seen star players get the book because they did something wrong. Neal targeted the head twice. Asham targeted the head.
Players won't learn with measly $2,500 fines and three game suspensions. I saw a comparison somewhere like it was fining someone $16 that made $50,000 a year. A three game suspension is also 3.6% of the season. Oh darn tootin', I'll sure change my tune if I miss 3% of the year.
The second part of the problem lies in an organizational perception that was put well in an open letter to Penguins management on Pensburgh.com. The letter outlines that many of the statements made by people around the league calling the team "spoiled," "arrogant," or "entitled" have come true, and it has embarrassed the franchise, and the league.
Was the open letter a little melodramatic? At times, yeah. But it called into question a poignant quote from Mario Lemieux.
"We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the security of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action."
What the Penguins did yesterday was disgraceful to the game. Will Lemieux and the rest of the Penguins brass be okay with the actions to come? Hypocrisy may as well be the name of the game. The NHL needs to tame its beast, the Pittsburgh Penguins. They tried silencing the coaches from speaking out against their conduct for the past several weeks with egregious fines.
Now those words have come to life in the form of classless conduct on the ice. Only time will tell the fallout from this game in the form of suspensions, or the Penguins' fall from grace in the 2012 playoffs. Can the NHL continue to defend this conduct from its poster child and poster team?
The playoffs have plenty of analysis to be had, so stay tuned to The Checking Line for all of it. I'll be here to give my thoughts on them as the Stars are not in the playoffs. Stick around! Follow me on Twitter: (@jckuhns)