NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan announced Monday night that Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski had been suspended for the remainder of the preseason as well as an additional eight regular-season games.
In a league that has been seemingly so inconsistent when it comes to discipline in years past, the new sheriff’s latest ruling sends a loud message to the rest of the league: If you break the rules — especially as a repeat offender — you are going to pay.
And pay Wisniewski did. The suspension will cost the defenseman, the owner of a brand new six-year, $33 million contract, more than $530,000 in forfeited salary.
Wisniewski’s hit on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck on Friday night is the type of senseless, seemingly unprovoked and dangerous hit hockey has been trying to eliminate for some time now.
By coming down swiftly on Wisniewski, Shanahan has done exactly what a good disciplinarian needs to do, especially when new on the job — make an example of someone or something.
Luckily for Shanahan, Wisniewksi’s situation was really a no-brainer. Here he has Wisniewski, someone who has been suspended four times since March of 2008, targeting the head of a defenseless player, all while doing so after the whistle and final horn. Check, check and check.
As elementary as the disciplinary action may seem, Shanahan and the NHL should be applauded. In a sport where grown men skate around often looking to decapitate each other, the message will not be received until the punishment is harsh enough. With the Wisniewski suspension, the players might finally start to get the message that certain types of hockey will no longer be accepted in NHL rinks.
Shanahan also deserves credit for the manner in which he explained the suspension to the entire hockey-watching public. In a clear and succinct matter in a video on the NHL’s website, Shanahan outlined the reasoning behind the suspension, seen below.
“As the video shows, Wisniewski intentionally targets Clutterbuck’s head and makes it the principal point of contact. … Wisniewski’s suspension history weighed heavily in my decision as well as the fact that he intentionally targeted a player when the play had ended.”
Shanahan also made a point to mention that while Clutterbuck may not have been injured by the hit, the actions and previous record were egregious enough to warrant a long suspension.
Shanahan also came down hard on another known tough guy known for toeing the line, Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley, when Shanahan suspended him for what will be 10 games following Shelley’s boarding of Toronto’s Darryl Boyce.
Of course, this is also only the beginning for Shanahan and his rain as the NHL’s top cop. If really truly wants to clean the game up, his next big disciplinary action will matter just as much, perhaps even more than the Wisniewski verdict.
The game can be cleaned up with more decisions like this one. Shanahan has set the precedent and sent a stern message that players will no longer get away with the antics they may have pulled during the past regime.
If Shanahan continues to stay consistent with his discipline, it will be a welcomed development in a league that has been inconsistent for such matters for far too long.
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