Brendan Shanahan Makes Right Call in Suspending Max Pacioretty, Any Outrage in Montreal Unwarranted

Brendan Shanahan Makes Right Call in Suspending Max Pacioretty, Any Outrage in Montreal UnwarrantedThere will be outrage in Montreal. Or should I say more outrage.

After all, self-righteous indignation seems to have become the Province of Quebec's primary export these days.

But Canadiens fans don't have much of an argument against the three-game suspension handed down to Habs forward Max Pacioretty on Monday night for his illegal hit to the head on Pittsburgh's Kris Letang Saturday night.

Yes, it's that same Max Pacioretty. The guy Bruins captain Zdeno Chara drove into a stanchion at the Bell Centre last March, ending Pactioretty's season with a broken vertebra and concussion. He's also the same Max Pacioretty who viciously drove Islanders defenseman Mark Eaton into the boards from behind last December, but that incident is conveniently forgotten by most Montreal fans.

In a controversial decision, Chara was not suspended for his hit on Pacioretty. But regardless of where you stood on that decision, the lack of punishment for Chara is not a valid reason to give Pacioretty a free pass for an illegal hit of his own.

And those were also two very different types of plays. Chara's hit provided far less of a clear-cut case for supplemental discipline. It was a hockey play gone wrong, with horrible consequences resulting as much from the ill-advised design of the stanchions between the benches as it was from the hit itself.

Pacioretty's hit didn't cause the same level of damage. Letang suffered a broken nose but was able to return to the game and, in fact, scored the game-winner in overtime for the Penguins. But the play clearly violated one of the new rules being emphasized in the league to eliminate head shots. That was the factor that NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan noted in the video explaining his decision, stating, "This was an illegal hit to the head in which the head was recklessly targeted and the principal point of contact."

That brings us to the two biggest differences between this incident and Chara's hit on Pacioretty last year. First, it came on Shanahan's watch, and he has been much more proactive in assessing supplemental discipline for reckless plays, particularly in regard to head shots. Second, it comes with Shanahan having a far stronger version of Rule 48 to enforce this season. That rule now reads that "a hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted."

Rule 48 also notes that "the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered."

That was the only defense Pacioretty could offer in his hearing with Shanahan, as Letang did appear to see him coming, but proceeded with his move to get off a shot despite the impending contact.

Pacioretty had every right to hit Letang in that situation, but no right to target his head with that hit. While there have been times when Shanahan's rulings have bordered on threatening to take the physical element out of the game to far too great an extent, in this occasion there is no agenda against hitting at play. The motive behind Shanahan's decision is to eliminate targeting the head with hits that threaten the careers and quality of life of the players on the receiving end.

"In spite of the fact he knows a check is imminent, [Letang] still makes the decision to put the puck on the net," Shanahan said. "Cutting through the middle like this, all players accept the danger and expectation that a full body check may be looming. Letang makes the decision to sacrifice his body, and must accept the possibility of taking a hit to make the play. However, what no player should expect is that his head will be picked and made the principal point of contact on such a hit."

That should be a point that no rational hockey fan can contest. But of the many adjectives used to describe the Montreal fan base over the years, "rational" has never entered the discussion. They didn't waste their tax dollars by flooding the 911 lines on Letang's behalf this time, but you can be sure they'll raise quite a furor over Pacioretty's suspension.

In fact, it's already begun. On the Hockey Inside/Out blog on the Montreal Gazette web site, Mike Boone wrote on Monday night:

"Let the anguished howls begin. This is three games more than Zdeno Chara got for his hit on Pacioretty. It's also three games more than Ryan Malone's hit on Chris Campoli. And three games more than Milan Lucic got for knocking Ryan Miller out of action.

"Gentlemen (and ladies): Start your conspiracy theories."

There's no conspiracy theory here. The only decision by the NHL that should be questioned in this case is how referees Dan O'Rourke and Mike Hasenfratz failed to call a penalty on the play when it happened on the ice. But NHL officials blowing calls is nothing new. At least this time, the league rectified the situation with a just administration of supplemental discipline.

For that, hockey fans should be thankful, and outraged only that anyone could defend such an obvious head shot with a straight face.

Yardbarker

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