NHL: Colin Campbell, Mike Richards and 10 Postseason Plays That Got Off Easy

James ConleyContributor IIIApril 29, 2011

NHL: Colin Campbell, Mike Richards and 10 Postseason Plays That Got Off Easy

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    Mike Richards was involved in two questionable plays in the Buffalo series, but escaped any supplemental discipline.Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    The first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs is in the books, and it didn't take long for hockey's second season to be overshadowed by the ugly and ridiculous trend of cheap and injurious plays.

    The taboo issue for the last two seasons, players are apparently trying to injure one another at record rates. Also record is the rate at which these plays have been mishandled.

    Hockey was without its biggest star this postseason due to blows to the head (argue the intentionality of the hit as you wish). It may finish with a few more stars on the shelf if these hits continue unabated.

    Thank goodness the Matt Cooke precedent scared enough sense into these players that they wouldn't dare make a borderline hit that might cost their team a crucial game.

    Just kidding. The postseason is hockey's version of diplomatic immunity.

    Scouring Youtube to find enough of these hits to compile a list of ten was as easy as taking a boarding penalty -- and getting away with it.

    Here are the ten plays of the Conference Quarterfinals that are sure to make Colin Campbell's job even more thankless, in no particular order.

10. Jarkko Ruutu Interferes with Martin Erat.

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    Jarkko Ruutu has made a living of hitting people, all the time, in any situation.

    To his credit, Erat had just made a play on the puck. But the play was gone, on someone else's tape and heading up the boards.

    Part of eliminating the hits and the injuries is to back off of contact when the hit is no longer there. Ruutu followed through with the hit, but the play was gone.

    Was one game a reasonable suspension? Probably. Ruutu at least made contact with his shoulder, which is a little better then sending out the flying elbow.

    His reputation probably just preceded him.

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: One Game Suspension

9. Raffi Torres Blows Up Brent Seabrook

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    Fresh off a four-game suspension for walloping Edmonton rookie Jordan Eberle, Raffi Torres made an impact in game three of the Vancouver-Chicago series by trying to put Brent Seabrook's skull on the outside of his helmet.

    Play that audio through a nice pair of speakers. The collision sounds like a train wreck.

    Torres' hit on Eberle made quite a stir in Vancouver. Coach Alain Vigneault and General Manager Mike Gillis showed their consternation to the ruling publicly, questioning whether the call was made to handicap the President's Trophy-winning Canucks as they entered the postseason.

    They won games one and two at home.

    There's no way to tell whether or not the perceived "harsh" suspension to the Eberle hit played into the ruling of the Seabrook hit. But credit Torres on his form. Perfect elbow, from the blindside -- Seabrook never saw it coming.

    Matt Cooke received a 17-game suspension for his elbow to the New York Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, as a follow-up to his four-game suspension for boarding Columbus' Fedor Tyutin.

    As a follow-up to his four-game suspension for leveling Jordan Eberle, Torres received a two minute minor penalty.

    Consistency, thy name is NHL.

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: -

8. Chris Kunitz Quits Using His Brain, Attempts to Extend Favor to Simon Gagne

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    There's little to say about this hit. Kunitz turned his brain off momentarily, just long enough to land an errant elbow on Simon Gagne, who has a long and sordid past with concussions.

    Perhaps the hit was in response to Steve Downie's hit on Ben Lovejoy earlier in the tilt. Nonetheless, it was a useless play.

    Kunitz was suspended for game four, which the Penguins won 3-2. Eric Tangradi played in his place and played a pivotal role in helping Pittsburgh score its only man-advantage marker of the series.

    Perhaps Kunitz should have gone out of his way to elbow someone in game six so that Eric Tangradi might have been on the ice in the event of a pivotal and series-deciding game seven power play opportunity.

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: One Game Suspension

7. Mike Richards Calls It Leadership

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    This was Mike Richards' second questionable hit of the series, and second which went essentially unpunished.

    Richards has an excellent record of escaping supplemental discipline. The repeat offender tag must not apply to team captains.

    Tim Connolly did not return to the series after that hit. Perhaps worse is that Mike Richards stayed in the game, assisting on the game-tying and game-winning goals that sent the series to a seventh game.

    At the risk of putting Buffalo in the second round based on the consequences of one non-suspension, we can agree that the hit certainly deserved more than a useless minor penalty.

    Tim Connolly has a history of head injuries, and Mike Richards has a history of causing them. Not that any of that counts in the playoffs.

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: -

6. Ryan Malone Spins Pascal Dupuis

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    There are those who would disagree with this hit making the list. Dupuis wasn't injured, and he may have even seen Malone coming in the split second before he spun him around.

    Then again, Malone could have been an inch or two in any direction from knocking the Penguins' winger unconscious.

    This hit is exactly what was addressed in the making of Rule 48. Dupuis did not see Malone coming with any reasonable warning, had his head turned away from the checking player, received a blow to the head/neck area and was already being engaged by several other players.

    The fact that Dupuis escaped injury is lucky for both he and Malone, but shouldn't have any bearing on how the hit was ruled. Malone's play met every tenet of Rule 48 except one - playoff immunity.

    Haven't we seen blindside hits similar to this turn out worse?

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: -

5. Alex Edler Throws 'Bows

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    In the waning seconds of a period, that elbow seems useless. Its hard to imagine how Troy Brouwer might have done any serious damage chasing Edler as they both moved in the same direction.

    Result of the hit notwithstanding, Edler still threw an elbow, one good enough to send Brouwer to the ice.

    The league doesn't need to drop a double-digit suspension on every hit that looks halfway questionable, but couldn't they have just given him a phone call? Just for appearance's sake?

    Disciplining a minutes-eating defenseman like Edler would send a much more genuine message than suspending a fourth-line forward like Torres.

    Initial Discipline: Probably Nothing
    Supplemental Discipline: -

4. Bobby Ryan Does the Two-Step

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    Shades of Chris Simon. Ryan is an unbelievably gifted forward and scored the goal of the year at one point in this series, but this was ridiculous.

    A skate stomp? Seriously? Beyond the obvious charges of "dangerous" and "potential misdemeanor assault outside of the rink," the skate stomp is a classless and cowardly maneuver.

    Hockey players are given weapons like sticks, skates and elbow pads with the understanding that they are to use them as implements of hockey, not weapons.

    Two games seems awfully contextual. At any point in the regular season, this could have been upwards of eight or ten games.

    Initial Discipline: -
    Supplemental Discipline: Two Game Suspension

3. Mike Richards Can Do Absolutely Anything

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    Mike Richards can do anything he wants. Absolutely anything. He has a free pass from the league.

    I haven't seen the pass. But did you see that elbow?

    Flyers commentators made a point to explain that Richards was defending himself from the oncoming Patrick Kaleta, and spoke at length about Kaleta's own spotty record for indecent play.

    But nothing? Nothing at all? Hockey players are paid handsomely to do many things well, and successfully defending oneself -- within the rules of the game -- counts towards those paychecks.

    Richards wasn't down to his last option in throwing an elbow into Kaleta's face. But the option was there, and it certainly presented no danger of supplemental discipline.

    The commentary is incredulous, and hilarious. The five minutes were warranted. If you need proof, pause the video right at the point where Richards' entire arm is parallel to the dasher. That's an illegal elbow.

    Initial Discipline: Five-Minute Major Penalty
    Supplemental Discipline: -

2. Steve Downie Soars

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    Steve Downie is a dirty hockey player. 

    Do you remember when Downie tried to put Sidney Crosby's knee ligaments on the outside of his body?

    Steve Downie remembers.

    He also remembers what it was like to nearly send Dean McAmmond through the ice and into the lower parts of the arena.

    He must have wanted to extend the favor to Ben Lovejoy.

    Looking closely at the video, one can se-- I'm sorry, are we being serious? One game? Steve Downie receives one game for a hit that is nearly identical to one which he committed, and which resulted in the fourth-longest suspension in NHL history?

    Look at his feet -- look at that air! Downie should place Silver at the Winter X-Games for that sort of amplitude. Unreal.

    Nonetheless, it was only worth one game. Lovejoy wasn't hurt, it happened during a playoff game, and it had to match Chris Kunitz' (also too-short) suspension, in order to keep up appearances, and symmetry, and the like.

    Initial Discipline: Minor Penalty (waived by Talbot goal on delay)
    Supplemental Discipline: [expletive deleted]

1. Tyler Kennedy and Mattias Ohlund Get off Easy

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    We'll make this a one-for-one. Mattias Ohlund got away with a blatant boarding non-call early in game seven against the Penguins.

    All things being fair, Tyler Kennedy certainly deserved a look for his kick of Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer.

    It wasn't an obviously injurious play. Those shin pads are military-grade. Stupid nonetheless.

    Initial Disciplines: -
    Supplemental Disciplines: -

First Round Scorecard

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Are you keeping score at home? That's eleven incidents which deserved further consideration, only four of which were given anything past minor or major penalties.

    This list purposely omits the Ference hit on Halpern in game seven of the Boston-Montreal series, which seemed incidental.

    A quick scorecard on questionable plays committed during the first round of the postseason:

    Elbows: Six

    Stomping/Kicking: Two

    Boarding: Two

    Charging/Soaring: One

    Minor Penalties Assessed:Six

    Major Penalties Assessed: One

    Repeat Offenders Listed: Four (Downie, Richards, Ruutu, Torres)

    Repeat Offender Man-Games Lost to Suspension: Two (Ruutu, Downie)

    Man-Games Lost due to Suspension: Five (Ryan, Kunitz, Ruutu, Downie)

    Man-Games Lost due to Injuries Resultant of Listed Plays: 6.5 (Connolly, Seabrook, Erat)

    Satisfactory Explanations Given for Supplemental Discipline Levied and Calls Made or Not Made: Zero

     

    Those numbers will make your head spin. In the first round alone, there were at least ten plays which could be construed as dangerous and suspendable, some of them on the fringe, most of them right down the middle of the plate.

    That the NHL cannot escape the public relations black eye of these hits and the injuries that result during the most intense and excellent postseason tournament in sports is at once pathetic and necessary.

    That the story hasn't gone away is a testament to the media. These hits are absolutely unacceptable, and the notion is that the continued bad press will eventually facilitate a change in the culture of the game.

    Sick of hearing about them? Sorry. Media-types need to drive these plays into the ground the way players' heads are being driven into the ice -- relentlessly.

    Until then, the game's best players are all in danger of spending their postseasons on the bench, while caveman hockey skates free.

    Somewhere, David Booth, Simon Gagne and Brent Seabrook are shaking their heads -- then wincing because they shook their heads.