NHL: Scottie Upshall's Suspension Shows Flaw in the System

Mike PascaleCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 22:  Scottie Upshall #8 of the Phoenix Coyotes plays the puck against Matt Carle #8 of the Philadelphia Flyers on February 22, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Coyotes defeat the Flyers 3-2 in OT. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Anyone who reads my articles (or my profile) knows I'm a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan.

At the same time, when I write about them, I try to be objective so I can provide viewpoints most diehard Flyers fans wouldn't see.

Today, I will tackle the National Hockey League's decision to suspend Phoenix Coyotes forward Scottie Upshall for two games for his hit on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Oskars Bartulis.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will reveal that I'm not an Upshall fan. He wasn't in Philadelphia long enough for me to feel an attachment to him and I always thought his popularity among the fans was due more to his personality and charm than his play on the ice.

That said, I think he got screwed on this one.

I have always thought the NHL is more concerned with plays that look dangerous and the result of those plays, rather than the actual safety of its players.

This suspension confirms my beliefs.

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The play was routine enough. Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler took a shot and Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky attempted to cover it up. The referee blew the whistle, but Upshall was skating hard at the goal and delivered a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an unsuspecting Bartulis.

Although a boarding penalty seemed odd considering Bartulis was six feet away from the boards, I wouldn't have had a major problem if interference was called, since Bartulis didn't touch the puck.

But to suspend Upshall for "playing until the whistle blows" is beyond comprehension. Aren't kids taught to play that way from the second they put on skates? Was Upshall supposed to assume that Bobrovsky would handle it cleanly and just give up on the play?

Almost every article I read, including the well-respected Puck Daddy, said it was a late hit. I watched the video, closed my eyes and hit the pause button immediately upon hearing the whistle. When I looked up, Bartulis was already on the ice, so I'm finding it hard to understand how people see it as late.

But even if I was willing to say it was late, how can Upshall be expected to stop on a dime as soon as the whistle blows? Shouldn't some of the blame be on Bartulis for not "keeping his head up," as I've heard about other players for years?

For anyone who brings up that Upshall admitted he was wrong and that it was a late hit, he didn't own up until after he was inundated with negative feedback. It is obvious he loves Philly and the fans so he didn't want any ongoing tension.

However, the real issue is: Should this type of hit be something that the NHL should be focusing on in the first place? The answer is no.

This was an unfortunate result of someone playing hard in a rough sport. It looked bad when Bartulis was flailing his legs, but it should be obvious to anyone who watched it that there was no intent to injure.

As Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admitted, "It's not really like Scottie to do that, but things happen."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

What I'll never grasp is that the NHL seems incapable of deciding intent instead of focusing on result. Is Colin Campbell, director of hockey operations, a robot unqualified to make rational judgments on an individual basis?

That's a rhetorical question. 

But seriously, do Campbell and the rest of the NHL executives really want me to believe Upshall's hit was only one game less severe than the hit Maple Leafs winger Mike Brown delivered to the head of Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski just a month ago?

Now that was intent to injure.

The fact is that dangerous hits are going to continue until the NHL starts handing out harsh penalties to players who intend to injure and fail, rather than players who accidentally injure someone while playing the game the right way.

Along with those unpunished, unsafe hits will come retaliation brawls that have been so frequent around the league as of late.

Then again, maybe that's their plan.

Visit http://crackingeggsofwisdom.com for Flyers game analysis as well my takes on other sports and pop culture.