Sidney Crosby and Nick Foligno: Plenty of Smoke, but Where's the Fire?
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Brendan Shanahan has a tough job.
The NHL's senior vice president of player safety and his crew have the unenviable task of defining what is and isn't acceptable in terms of physicality in the post-lockout, post-concussion NHL era.
Each time Shanahan's office rules (or abstains from ruling) on a potentially punishable hit, it's responsible for aligning its rationale with precedent, explaining the situation to the players involved and hopefully pleasing fans who demand accountability.
Good luck pleasing anyone when Sidney Crosby's name is part of the deal.
The latest cries of iniquity came from Ottawa forward Nick Foligno and general manager Bryan Murray, who have claimed that Crosby's net-front scrum with the Senators produced an elbowing incident that, at the very least, lessened Crosby's stance as an anti-head shot advocate.
Crosby received a two-minute minor for elbowing, and rightly so. There was also zero supplemental discipline handed down on the play, nor was any apparently even considered.
Also, rightly so.
Shanahan has been adamant in saying his job is to help legislate the most dangerous and least necessary hits out of the game. Part of that is ensuring that the physicality that has come to define hockey isn't made illegal as well.
Net-front scrums are as common to hockey as dogpiles atop fumbled balls in a football game. Players crash into the boards, pull at one another, send gloved hands into opponents' faces—scrums aren't pretty, and aren't supposed to be. It takes something egregious, like a few good punches or the heinous use of ones stick or skates, to really step out of bounds during one of these tussles.
What Crosby and Foligno were involved in was a textbook scrum. Crosby took Foligno to task to running over his goaltender for the third time in the same game. Running a goalie, whose focus is solely on the puck despite the chaos in front of him, constitutes the widely accepted grounds for physical confrontation.
Crosby made a point of protecting his goaltender, but took things too far. Hence, the minor.
Don't forget that Foligno got his hands up on Crosby as well. If Crosby really was privy to exceptional treatment from the league, that's the sort of thing that would send up red flags.
Shanahan and crew deserve credit for ruling on the hits that are truly dangerous, such as the hit Max Pacioretty put on Kris Letang Saturday night in Montreal.
Pacioretty nailed Letang with the kind of laterally skating, blindside hit in which the head is the principal point of contact and the player being hit has no chance of defending himself. Letang suffered a broken nose on the play, and though no penalty was called at the time, the league deemed the hit worthy of a three-game absence.
Be honest: Is Max Pacioretty, recipient of perhaps the most violent and nearly career-threatening head injury since Steve Moore, getting the same hypocrite tag as Crosby? After all, Patch's hit on Letang was a far more dangerous, blatant and injurious collision than Crosby's tussle with Foligno.
The illegality of Pacioretty's hit was even cemented by a three-game suspension handed down by the league Monday, but he isn't receiving the same cries of hypocrisy, and that's because Crosby is Crosby. Nothing more, nothing less.
Was the Foligno scrum worthy of anything more than a minor penalty?
Crosby got his elbow up in the air, sure. Every player in a scrum gets his hands up.
Its impossible to know Crosby's intent, but if he wanted to injure Foligno, there were better ways to do it—throwing a slew foot, dropping the gloves or skating back to the bench and telling Arron Asham or Deryk Engelland to handle the problem for him.
Shanahan's focus has been and should continue to be on legitimate hits to the head, ones where 1) the play is in motion and the player's focus is on the puck, and 2) a legitimately injurious situation can result.
A scrum is a scrum, and its simply part of hockey. If players are going to be fined for scrumming, how on Earth can gloves-off fighting be a sanctioned part of the game?
Unless Anderson Silva starts lacing up, no player is going to be concussed by high hands in a net-front battle, and Shanahan will be right to keep his focus on the high-speed, heavy-impact plays that are truly a danger to the game.
Pacioretty's suspension and Crosby's minor are in lock-step with the plays Shanahan has ruled on so far during his tenure, and those crying Pittsburgh favoritism need to remember recent suspensions handed to Letang and Matt Cooke.
The league isn't favoring anyone here. If one can remove the blind love or ruthless hate that Crosby somehow manages to brew at every turn, the most important thing to take from this is that Shanahan and his office are legislating the real dangers out of hockey, without robbing it of its physical tradition.
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