NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
Game one of the Western Conference QuarterFinals between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks gave fans of both teams things to be happy about. Kings fans can be content knowing that their boys hung in there with the Sharks and pushed them to the very end. Sharks fans are happy because they won a hard-fought game.
However, one thing that leaves this observer miffed is the way the on-ice officials and NHL brass handled the hit from behind by Jarret Stoll on San Jose defenseman Ian White at the end of the first period. The video is posted below so you can watch and decide for yourself, but how Stoll escaped without being called for a five minute boarding major is beyond belief.
The failure of two referees to see a clear hit to the head, from behind, along the boards and right where the puck was is unbelievable. White skated off the ice, but with assistance; however he did not return. Head coach Todd McLellan indicated in his postgame press conference that White was not feeling well, and the San Jose Mercury News is reporting that he was not practicing today.
It is unknown whether or not White suffered a concussion, or what sort of injury he suffered, as NHL teams are tight-lipped with regards to these issues; what is known is that White missed the rest of game one, and will miss at least one more game (if not the whole series or all playoffs if it is something serious like a concussion).
The lack of a penalty to Stoll allowed him to play over 20 minutes and win 65 percent of his face-offs; thus having a significant impact on game one. A five minute major at the end of the first period with L.A.'s top center being ejected clearly changes the whole outlook of the game.
Referees are human; they make mistakes, and this is why the NHL reviewed the hit and held a conference call with members of the Sharks, Kings and Stoll to discuss a possible suspension.
Looking at the hit, it can either be one of two things: (1) Stoll was trying to make a hockey play but got caught in a bad position going for the hit on White, tried to let up, but was unable to in time; or (2) Stoll committed a dirty play by hitting White in the back and back of the head with intent on taking him out. If it's the first then there should be no suspension; if it's the latter then it deserves a serious reprimand.
The NHL decided to suspend Stoll, but for one game. The NHL took the middle ground when there was no middle ground to take. With the amount of attention that the NHL has given to eliminating concussions and hits to the head, the NHL chickened out on sending a message that such hits will not be tolerated.
By deciding to suspend Stoll, the NHL acknowledged that there was intent behind the hit and it was not simply a hockey play gone wrong (a la Chara), but by not suspending Stoll for more than a token game (possibly with the hope of appeasing fans while not greatly impacting a playoff series) what sort of message does this send?
The NHL had a big opportunity to take a stand on dangerous hits, but either because it is the playoffs or because Stoll had no previous record, the National Hockey League failed.