So far in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, there have been a number of exactly the type of hits the NHL says it wants to eliminate.
Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks stomped on an opposing player's foot, a dangerous and cheap play that uses a sharp blade delivered with force to injure. This was no surprise; a preview of how the Ducks react when losing was seen late in the season against the Sharks, and they have a long history of crossing the line.
Ryan likely got no leniency because of that—another player could have contended it was an accident in over-exuberant efforts to free the puck along the boards.
Instead, his team is now down 2-1 in the series and facing the second game of his suspension.
But then why did the past not hurt Raffi Torres? He has been a head-hunter previously in his career, and blindsided Brent Seabrook behind Chicago's net Sunday, then acted like teammate Christian Ehrhoff in being flabbergasted that he could possibly have done anything wrong.
Discipline "czar" Colin Campbell left the two-minute minor as his only penalty—no fine, no suspension—because Torres did not launch and Seabrook was on the puck. Those points are true, but he did go shoulder to the head, which apparently is no longer suspendable in the playoffs; meanwhile, Seabrook will miss Game Four, all but eliminating his Blackhawks.
Similarly, in Game One of the Sharks-Kings series, Ian White was against the boards when he was hit from behind in the head by Jarrett Stoll. Stoll got no penalty and was suspended for just one game, meaning he missed less time than the player he recklessly endangered (almost two games, minimum).
How do you feel about the NHL's discipline in these five cases during the playoffs?
The dirty play payed off, as the Sharks lost Game Two in part because of an unproductive blueline. White is adept at advancing the puck, which explains why as a unit, they finished -3 with six giveaways and got only 11 of 27 shot attempts on net (10 blocked, six missed).
The league will get another chance to dispense more consistent, harsher discipline: A cheap shot from former Duck Chris Kunitz, now playing for one of the teams that leads the league in them because of suspended Penguin Matt Cooke, was followed by oft-suspended Steve Downie's launch at the head of Ben Lovejoy later in the same game.
(Update: Kunitz and Downie each received one game suspensions. In the NHL, one playoff game equates to two regular season games. Does anyone seriously think either of those players would have gotten only two games in November if their target was Sidney Crosby?)
Until the punishment outweighs the benefits, expect things to continue.