The NHL suspended Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic one game on Monday for his second period hit on Philadelphia Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo during Saturday's game between the two teams, and it was a poor decision by the league.
The Bruins' physical play has been talked about quite a bit since the playoffs last season, when their toughness was one of the primary reasons they defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.
With Lucic's recent suspension, plus the fact that he escaped a suspension for a much more egregious hit on Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller earlier in the year, are the Bruins being closely watched by the league?
"Our team is watched very closely," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli before Monday's game against Montreal.
"We’ve got a lot of physical players, and I know our team is watched very closely, so he’s part of the team, and he’s one of the physical players. Our guys are smart, generally, so it’s not a concern. It’s just something we have to keep our eye on."
Boston has built their team on a style of physical play and being aggressive in their own end, and not only is it the style of hockey the Bruins have used throughout their history, it has given them great results over the past few seasons.
What I don't like is how the NHL is still inconsistent in these rulings. How does the Miller hit receive no fine or suspension but this Rinaldo hit, which wasn't even that bad, gets a one game ban?
League disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has done a nice job this season in giving out proper rulings on disciplinary matters, but this situation with Lucic was handled poorly.
Sure, Lucic's past history of these hits was taken into account in deciding his punishment Monday, but he's not a dirty player, and this Rinaldo hit was not a big deal.
"Again, standing alone, I don’t think that [Rinaldo] hit is a suspendable offense," Chiarelli said. "Really, I don’t. There’s been a lot worse—there was a lot worse yesterday—and there’s some that don’t even get called..."
The league needs to look at each individual case differently, and although I believe that previous history is important because it can show if a player has learned his lesson or not, past finesand suspensions should not way too heavily in the decision to suspend these players.
Especially in the case of Lucic, where he is just a physical power forward who is not a dirty player at all, and never goes out to injure people. He does have a record of some incidents, but it is not one filled with egregious hits.
"If you go back and see what Milan has done, to me, it’s pretty unremarkable, but they obviously look at everything," said Chiarelli. "I think he got a suspension against [Maxim] Lapierre, he got the fine against Freddy Meyer, he got a warning on [Ryan] Miller, and this. I might have been missing one, but he didn’t get any other warnings."
Here is the video explaining the decision by Shanahan.
Shanahan explains in the video that “the overriding factor in elevating this check from behind from a penalty on the ice to a suspension is his history of similar infractions, warnings and a fine."
Lucic certainly has a prior history, but I wouldn't call him a "repeat offender," and neither would Chiarelli.
"I agree with the global objective of addressing player safety," Chiarelli said, "and if the body of work means that now he’s in that, again, not 'repeat offender,' but the 'repeat concerns,' I guess, however you want to characterize it, then if that’s what it is, that’s what it is."
The NHL has to work toward being consistent in their decisions and knowing how much to weigh a player's record in making decisions to suspend them or not.
Shanahan has done a fine job of making the game safer but this Lucic suspension just does not make sense.
He isn't a dirty player, but because the Bruins' physical play is so discussed it becomes a larger issue than it really is.
When asked if he thinks general managers around the NHL think the Bruins get away with stuff Chiarelli said, "No, I don't think so," but my feeling is that some other teams do sometimes think the Bruins get away with stuff.
Regardless, the Bruins will not change their style of play because it's what works best for them, and quite honestly, it is the way the game should should be played; tough, physical and hard.
All quotes obtained first hand.