In Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome delivered a devastating hit to Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton. The hit was a solid check that Mike Murphy, the NHL’s Senior VP, said would have been clean if it wasn't late.
However, the problem for Rome is that it was late. It was a full second late. As a result, Rome was suspended by the NHL earlier today. I have no issue with this.
But what I do have an issue with is the length of the suspension and the reasons why I believe the suspension is so long.
Instead of a one or two-game suspension, which is probably the appropriate punishment for the late hit, Aaron Rome received four games. This will take Rome out for the rest of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, even if the series goes the full seven games. If it doesn’t go seven games, then the suspension will carry over to next season.
A four-game suspension is the longest suspension in Stanley Cup Finals history, and many people believe that four games in the playoffs is the equivalent of eight games in the regular season. So is such a lengthy and precedent-setting suspension warranted for a hit that would have been clean if it wasn’t a second late?
So why did the NHL do this? They did it for all the wrong reasons.
First of all, the hit resulted in Nathan Horton being taken off the ice on a stretcher. It was obvious at the time that he received a concussion on the play, and the sight of the stretcher on the ice sent shock waves throughout the TD Gardens in Boston.
However, as unfortunate as the injury was, it shouldn’t weigh into the decision of how long a player gets suspended for. Concussions and injuries in general are very particular in terms of how they can happen. A player can suffer a career-ending injury from a seemingly innocent play while an extremely dirty and malicious hit sometimes doesn’t hurt a player at all.
The point is that the intent to injure doesn’t always result in an injury, while a hockey play sometimes results in an unintentional severe injury. The NHL should not base their decisions on how the body reacts to certain plays.
If they want to take that approach, then shouldn’t David Steckel still be sitting out for colliding with Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic back on January 1? Shouldn’t Zdeno Chara still be sitting out for his hit on Max Pacioretty back in March?
On the flip side, there have been much dirtier hits than the one Rome delivered that didn’t warrant a suspension simply because the player on the receiving end of the hit wasn’t hurt.
Take Daniel Sedin being hit from behind by Ben Eager, a repeat offender of cheap shots, in the Western Conference Finals. The intent to injure was much worse on the part of Eager, but the hit only resulted in a two minute penalty since Sedin wasn’t hurt.
Suspending a player based on how badly the player he hits is injured is an idea that sounds great in theory, but in the end it doesn’t really work. After all, if Rome’s hit connected an inch to the right or left of Horton, he may not have even been injured at all on the play. The illegal nature of the hit would still be the same, but would the NHL even be considering suspending Rome if that was the case? I doubt it.
The NHL using the severity of an injury to decide the length of a suspension opens up an enormous can of worms. It can lead to players faking injuries and staying down on the ice longer than they should in order to draw longer penalties and suspensions. In other words, it has the potential to turn hockey into soccer, which is something that hardcore hockey fans loathe to even consider.
But consider this: Just one hour before Rome’s suspension hearing with the NHL this morning, the Bruins P.R. department released a statement revealing that Horton’s concussion was severe and he will miss the rest of the playoffs as a result. Is it a coincidence that this statement was released only an hour before the Mike Murphy and the rest of the NHL front office made its decision on the suspension? I don’t think so. Murphy revealed in his press conference today that the severity of Horton’s injury played into their decision and the Bruins organization took advantage of this.
What if Horton magically heals for a potential Game 7 of this series? The NHL would look pretty stupid for using his injury as a factor in deciding the length of Rome’s suspension. Of course, this is unlikely. But it’s still some food for thought.
You can point to a number of other reasons why Aaron Rome may have been suspended that had nothing to do with the hit itself as well.
Perhaps it’s a carryover from Alex Burrows not being suspended for allegedly biting Patrice Bergeron. Maybe it was an easier decision for the NHL to suspend Rome for longer because he’s not among the Canucks' best defensemen. Or maybe the league feared that the Bruins would go after Rome later in the series if he was allowed to return.
These would all be terrible reasons to lengthen his suspension because they have nothing to do with Rome’s hit. But we can’t confirm that any of those things played into the NHL’s decision.
However, we can confirm that the severity of Nathan Horton’s injury did play into the league's decision because Mike Murphy said so himself. It’s a poor way of deciding these things and it opens the NHL up to a potentially scandalous future.