Brendan Shanahan sent a clear message Monday about how serious the league is in its efforts to curtail head injuries when he suspended Philadelphia star Claude Giroux for Tuesday’s Game 5 in the Flyers’ second-round series against New Jersey.
In many ways, this one-game ban is a stronger statement than even the staggering 25-game suspension Raffi Torres received earlier in the postseason. Torres’ cheap shot on Marian Hossa was far worse than Giroux’s late shoulder to the head of Dainius Zubrus, and the extraordinary length of Torres’ ban more than deserved with his lengthy history of illegal hits.
But how much does Phoenix really miss Torres? The Coyotes appear to be doing just fine without him, going 5-2 since Torres was banned and moving within one win of the franchise’s first trip to the conference finals.
That’s an accomplishment the Flyers may not be able to match this season without Giroux. They face elimination on Tuesday down 3-1 to the Devils. Now they’ll have to try to stay alive without Giroux, who leads all players in the NHL in playoff scoring by a wide margin. Giroux has 8-9-17 totals through 10 games, five points more than his closest pursuer, teammate Danny Briere.
Giroux won’t get a chance to add to those totals on Tuesday, and possibly not again at all if the Flyers can’t win without him.
By any measure, Giroux, who finished third in the regular-season scoring race with 93 points, is a star of the highest magnitude in the NHL. That’s the kind of player who traditionally had been spared the wrath of league disciplinarians for such transgressions.
That has been true even for much of this postseason. Detroit fans will rightly point to the lack of a suspension for Nashville star defenseman Shea Weber when he slammed Henrik Zetterberg‘s head into the glass at the end of Game 1 in that opening-round series. Weber was hit with just a $2,500 fine. Alex Ovechkin didn’t even get that for his questionable hit on Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi on Saturday.
Shanahan has been far from perfect. The consistency of his rulings has left a lot to be desired. But Monday’s decision offers some hope that he may be coming around. That maybe, just maybe, at some point the NHL rulebook will actually apply to every player and not have different versions to continue the caste system separating the stars from the rest of the rank and file.
Giroux’s hit was far from the most egregious seen this postseason. Zubrus, who had scored what proved the game-winner just minutes before the hit, was shaken up but returned to the game and even iced the New Jersey victory with an empty-netter in the final minute. But the hit was a clear violation of the expanded Rule 48 implemented this season in an effort to curb the concussion epidemic in the NHL by reducing shots to the head.
It was a direct shot to the head and it was late, coming well after Zubrus had gotten rid of the puck. And not even a star should get away with that.
For once, Shanahan agreed. With this suspension, the embattled dean of discipline finally sent a message that all players will be held accountable for their actions when it comes to reckless head shots. Now he just has to show he will remain consistent with that message.