Arron Asham laid a dirty cross-check to the face of Brayden Schenn late in the first period of Game 3 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. The cross-check came immediately following Schenn’s huge hit on Matt Cooke which resulted in a two-minute minor for charging.
Asham was assessed a match penalty on the play and should expect a call from the NHL's head of discipline, Brendan Shanahan, in the near future.
The first few days of the NHL playoffs have been filled with cheap shots. While some players have been dealt with sternly, others have escaped with a slap on the wrist.
Vancouver’s Byron Bitz received a two-game suspension for hitting Kyle Clifford high, which caused Clifford’s head to be crushed against the glass.
Nashville’s Shea Weber received only a fine for placing his hand on Henrik Zetterberg’s head and driving it into the glass.
On Saturday, Shanahan’s job got even harder following ugly incidents in New York and St. Louis, but again, inconsistencies emerged.
Carl Hagelin appeared to target the head of Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson on a hit which ended Alfredsson’s night. As a result, the NHL scheduled a hearing with Hagelin on Sunday. In the same game Chris Phillips delivered an elbow to Ryan Callahan’s head, but no hearing was scheduled.
In a similar incident in St. Louis, Brent Burns of the Sharks struck Scott Nichol with what appeared to be an intentional elbow to the head. Again, no hearing was scheduled.
The NHL claims to remain committed to eliminating unnecessary shots to the head. Yet, multiple head shots have occurred in the first round of the playoffs which the NHL doesn’t consider worthy of hearings, let alone fines or suspensions.
So what action will the NHL take against Asham for his dirty cross-check?
The act itself warrants a multi-game suspension, but the NHL doesn’t seem concerned with suspending players based on their actions alone. Will the determining factor be Asham’s history? After all Brayden Schenn didn’t appear to be injured by the cross-check as he continued to play the rest of the game.
The league set a precedent early in the playoffs by not suspending Shea Weber because Zetterberg wasn’t hurt on the play and suited up the next game. The league has followed it up by not even scheduling hearings for players who appear to target the head of others with dangerous elbows.
Expect the cheap shots to continue throughout the playoffs as the NHL continues to back down from suspending players based on their actions—by focusing more on the perpetrator's history and the victim’s injuries.