Stanley Cup Finals 2011: Breaking a Player's Spine Is Better Than a Concussion?

Joel Prosser@@JoelProsserCorrespondent IJune 15, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13:  Christopher Higgins #20 and Ryan Kesler #17 help Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks off the ice after being checked by Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins in the first period during Game Six of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Did Mike Murphy, the current head of supplemental discipline for the NHL, ever get concussed repeatedly as a player? 

I'm just wondering, since an undiagnosed brain injury is the certainly the most logical explanation for his behavior over the last week.

I don't subscribe to conspiracy theories when it comes to NHL discipline.

I prefer to attribute the inconsistency and lack of logic to incompetence rather than malice.

On June 7, Murphy held a press conference to explain his reasons for suspending Aaron Rome of the Vancouver Canucks for his hit on Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins. Rome was suspended for the last four games of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Murphy had the following to say in his opening statement:

"It caused a serious injury to Nathan Horton. So the key components are: the late hit, which I had it close to a second late…  We saw the seriousness of the injury with Nathan on the ice last night."

Later in the press conference, Murphy was asked to confirm the suspension was for the lateness of the hit.

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"Yes." Murphy replied, then unprompted, he continued. "The lateness combined with the injury."

This theme continued throughout the press conference, with Murphy stressing the lateness of the hit and the severity of the injury were the key criteria that led to the record-setting suspension.

Fast forward a week, and on June 13, Mason Raymond of the Canucks was taken into the boards awkwardly by Johnny Boychuck of the Bruins.

Raymond was motionless on the ice for almost five minutes before being taken to hospital. He has a spinal injury that will keep him off the ice for at least three to four months, in a best-case scenario. 

Literally, Raymond suffered a broken back on the play.

I'm not going to break down the play in detail, as I'm sure everyone has already seen the video, and Kevin Goff of Bleacher Report (Featured Columnist for the Colorado Avalanche, and therefore a neutral party to the Bruins and Canucks) has also broken it down nicely here

To put it briefly, it was an interference penalty where Boychuk did a "can opener" on Raymond, spinning him around, and then while the puck was no where in sight, drove him into the boards while Raymond was bent over double with his head at the level of Boychuk's knees. 

Raymond obviously was unable to defend himself or brace for the impact of being crunched between Boychuk and the boards, and suffered the spinal compression injury.

Murphy was quite clear that the criteria for suspension in the Rome hit was the lateness of the hit combined with the severity of injury to Horton.

Was the Boychuk hit (the actual impact into the boards) a late hit? 

Yes. So late that it wasn't even in the camera shot for NBC or CBC during the play.

Was Raymond seriously injured?

Yes. I'd say a spine injury where the doctors were originally concerned about Raymond being able to walk, let alone even play hockey again, is pretty serious. 

In any case, the prognosis of a minimum three to four months of recovery before he can skate speaks for itself as to the seriousness of the injury.

So given Murphy's own words on July 7, you'd think that on July 14, a mere week later,  the play would at least be reviewed for a possible suspension, as it fit both the key criteria Murphy himself laid down.

If you thought that, you were being logical in assuming the criteria hadn't changed from one week to the next. 

You'd also be wrong.

A week ago, Murphy stated he didn't make snap judgements, but instead carefully considered everything, in conjunction with others, when a serious injury occurs.

"First of all, I don't make any assessments immediately," Murphy stated in his June 7 press conference.

"I need to look at things in a little cooler temperature than the arena. You never want to say something that's wrong, especially in the severity of these type of things where we've got one young man in the hospital."

Murphy has stated today, June 14, that he didn't even feel the need to review the play where Raymond was injured. 

In other words, he did the exact opposite of what he stated the process was for determining a potential suspension last week.

In fact, he didn't even feel the need to inquire about the still hospitalized Raymond's medical status or get the doctor's prognosis before making the snap judgement that no review was necessary.

This was confirmed in a press conference today by Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis.

Q. Mike, in the Horton case, the NHL looked at the medical records before making a decision. Did the league ask for your medical records in Mason's case to look at it the same sort of way when they made their justification on the suspension for Aaron Rome? 

Mike Gillis:  No. 

In the NHL's view, as espoused by Mike Murphy, it is apparently okay to break someone's back with a late hit.

Just as long as you don't give them a concussion.

That is the ruling today, at least—it might be different tomorrow.

I don't know a single NHL fan, regardless of what team they cheer for, who thinks the NHL's discipline process is anything less than a joke.

Will Brendan Shanahan, the incoming head of supplemental discipline for the 2011-2012 season, be able to rehabilitate the image of the NHL in this regard? 

I hope so, but I'm certainly not going to be holding my breath.

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