NHL Appears Suspension Happy After Alex Ovechkin Hit

Ken ArmerSenior Writer IDecember 1, 2009

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 25:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at the Verizon Center on November 25, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

It's clear wherever Alexander Ovechkin goes the spotlight follows; and the ever watchful eye of the National Hockey League moves as well to ensure one of its top superstars behaves in step. While the attention given by the league, the media, and the fans to players like Alexander Ovechkin is well warranted, it appears the NHL may be a little over zealous in handing out misconducts to players.

Most recently it was the knee on knee collision between Alex Ovechkin and Tim Gleason. While the whole "second misconduct in three games" issue requires review by the league, and generally ends in a suspension, can the league truly expect players of this highest caliber to slow down and soften hits in the interest of being overly nice to the opposition?

Did the hit on Gleason injure? Yes, and while I have to agree with the league on the terms in dealing with two suspensions in three games, I disagree with their aggressiveness in demonizing the knee to knee hit.

True, it is ugly, and can be a career ending hit. Moreover it can be done intentionally. But the replay clearly shows Ovechkin in the process of a check and the knee on knee just sort of happened. Additionally, take into account the fact that Ovie is generally not a "dirty" player and this hit is, by all accounts, accidental.

Penalize him and review the hit, but don't punish him for something far beyond his control. Other players seem to be trying to take each others' heads off; to react in such a way to a harmless knee to knee seems a little over zealous.

The first example to cause me concern regarding the NHL's overzealous approach to suspensions was James Neal. Ask any Stars fan and Neal would be at the very bottom of a Dallas Stars goon list. Steve Ott and the occasionally over-aggressive Brenden Morrow maybe, but not James Neal.

Several weeks ago, Neal was suspended for a brutal hit against Columbus Blue Jacket Derek Dorsett in which Dorsett's head hit the boards. He was clearly dazed and confused on the ice.

While I never like to see someone get hurt, it sort of fits the job description in hockey. Neal's hit was clean, and while perhaps a little excited on his part, he clearly didn't break his usual mold and lay a dirty hit to injure Dorsett.

Neal, like Ovechkin, was suspended for two games. The issue isn't the protection of players by the NHL, but the extreme coddling, to the point of overzealous punishment.

Can the NHL truly take on a "guilt by association" approach to situations and expect the game not to be hurt?

Can the league think it's right to group upright players like Ovechkin and Neal together with real goons who constantly hit high, injure, and play dirty, such as Chris Pronger?

Nothing positive will come from the over punishment of good, decent players. No regular player wants to injure, or even attempts to in most cases, but the NHL can't punish a player for a legal, clean hit just because it injures.

I myself admit both hits are highly controversial. While some punishment may have been necessary, it seems wrong to punish them in a manner which feels guiltier by association than truly a review of the injury, the hit, and the type of players involved.

Ken Armer is a Community Leader for the NHL and the Dallas Stars for Bleacher Report. He also covers the  Anaheim Ducks for SoCalSportsHub.com and covers the Texas and Dallas Stars for Hockey54.com. He can be contacted at karmer@bleacherreport.com.