Aside from the fact that so many surprising teams have advanced and that goaltending has been spectacular, there is no question that the biggest story of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs has been the high volume of illegal hits.
The most recent was administered by Phoenix Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal as he drove Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown headfirst into the end boards in the middle of the third period in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. Hanzal was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding on the play.
According to NHL.com, Hanzal has been suspended for Game 3 of the series with his team trailing 2-0 to the Kings. Although league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan was correct to suspend Hanzal, the punishment doesn't fit the crime, as Hanzal deserves a longer ban for a hit that could have easily seriously injured Brown.
With the Coyotes trailing 3-0 in the game and about to go down 2-0 in the series, it is quite obvious that Hanzal was growing frustrated. Brown has been a thorn in the side of Phoenix over the course of the first two games, and there is no doubt that Hanzal saw an opportunity to make Brown pay.
Hanzal certainly did that, but the hit was reckless and dangerous, and there is no place for it in the game. That type of hit is precisely what the NHL should be working to abolish, but I doubt that a one-game suspension will deter anyone. Players are at their most vulnerable when their backs are turned and they are facing the glass, and Hanzal took advantage of that vulnerability.
Perhaps the fact that Hanzal is 6'6" and 236 lbs. made the hit look even worse than it was, but an illegal hit is an illegal hit. Everything that Hanzal did in the situation was completely and utterly wrong, and I don't believe that it would have been unfair to suspend him for the remainder of the playoffs.
When a player is able to see the numbers on another player's jersey, then that is a warning sign that a hit shouldn't be made. That isn't to say that Hanzal should have allowed Brown to do whatever he wanted with the puck, but Hanzal could have easily used his stick to play the puck or even pinned Brown against the boards rather than driving him.
This isn't the first instance in which the Coyotes have gotten into trouble for a hit this postseason, as forward Raffi Torres was suspended 25 games for a vicious, open-ice hit on Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in the first round. The result of that hit was much worse as Hossa's head hit the ice and he was carried off on a stretcher, but the hit itself was pretty comparable to Hanzal's in maliciousness.
The biggest issues with the Torres hit were that Hossa had already gotten rid of the puck and that Torres left his feet. That wasn't the case with Hanzal, so I wouldn't give him that drastic of a punishment, but he appeared to have intent to injure Brown, so he should have gotten five games at the very least.
Truth be told, with the way the Coyotes are playing against the Kings, there may only be two games left for them in the playoffs anyway because Los Angeles looks like a good candidate to sweep them. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has been absolutely spectacular and L.A.'s offense has come alive as well, so Phoenix appears to be losing hope and losing its cool.
To say that Shanahan's suspensions have been arbitrary is an understatement to say the least. His one-game suspension of Hanzal is another example of that. I suppose the fact that he actually disciplined Hanzal can be looked at as a positive, but until a uniform suspension system is in place, we will continue to see inconsistent rulings such as this one.
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