Brad Marchand Suspension Not in Line With Penalties for Similar Hits, But Inconsistency Nothing New in NHL Discipline


Brad Marchand Suspension Not in Line With Penalties for Similar Hits, But Inconsistency Nothing New in NHL DisciplineThe NHL took its time in announcing Brad Marchand's fate, waiting nearly six hours after his 12:30 p.m. phone hearing to finally reveal the decision Monday evening.

For Marchand, that wait will pale in comparison to the wait he'll have before he gets to play again for the Bruins. Marchand was suspended for five games for his low hit that upended Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo on Saturday. That's a punishment that seems excessive when compared to similar incidents, but consistency has never been a hallmark of NHL discipline.

Marchand will not be eligible to play again until the Bruins visit New Jersey on Jan. 19, missing home games this week against Winnipeg and Montreal and road contests at Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay. The ban will also cost Marchand, who is classified as a repeat offender because of a two-game suspension he received for elbowing Columbus' R.J. Umberger last March, the tidy sum of $152,439.02.

The final two digits may as well be covered by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who definitely got his two cents' worth in a statement expressing his disagreement with the league's decision.

"While we respect the process that the Department of Player Safety took to reach their decision regarding Brad's hit on Sami Salo, we are very disappointed by their ruling," Chiarelli said in the statement. "While we understand that the Department of Safety is an evolving entity, it is frustrating that there are clear comparable situations that have not been penalized or sanctioned in the past.

"It is equally disappointing that Brad sought the counsel of the Department this past fall for an explanation and clarification regarding this type of scenario so as to adjust his game if necessary," Chiarelli continued. "He was advised that such an incident was not sanctionable if he was protecting his own safety. Given our feeling that Brad was indeed protecting himself and certainly did not clip the player as he contacted the player nowhere near the knee or quadricep, today's ruling is not consistent with what the Department of Player Safety communicated to Brad."

There is merit to much of Chiarelli's contentions. No one can argue that the NHL has been anywhere even approaching consistent in its application of supplementary discipline. Even a cursory search on YouTube will produce plenty of similar hits that drew no penalties or suspensions. That includes many by the Canucks themselves, most notably Keith Ballard's dangerous hit on San Jose's Jamie McGinn in last year's playoffs and Mason Raymond's upending of Marchand in the Cup Final.

While not addressing the similarities or differences to any other hits in the video explaining the decision, NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan did dismiss the Bruins' argument that Marchand was trying to protect himself.

"We do not view this play as defensive or instinctive," Shanahan said. "Rather, we feel this was a predatory, low hit delivered intentionally by Marchand in order to flip his opponent over him."

Shanahan also definitively labeled the hit as a clip, which is certainly debatable, as Marchand appears to hit Salo above the knee. However, regardless of the exact point of contact, it was clearly a dangerous hit to deliver.

While Marchand may have felt a need to protect himself from the oncoming Salo, who has six inches and 29 pounds on the diminutive Bruins winger, Salo didn't appear to be approaching at such a speed that Marchand didn't have other options to avoid putting himself in a vulnerable position.

The video shows that Marchand and Salo came together in a similar fashion seconds before, and Marchand absorbed the hit in that instance. The two then jostled briefly before separating, then coming together with far more damaging consequences.

That previous run-in, which Shanahan obviously felt added some premeditation to Marchand's low-bridge hit, along with Marchand's prior history — a fine for a slew foot earlier this year in addition to last year's suspension — no doubt contributed to the harsh penalty.

It's a penalty that seems excessive for the offense. But what really will be offensive is if Shanahan continues to selectively enforce such punishments. Right or wrong, he has now set the precedent that such hits are not acceptable and will be penalized severely. Players like Ballard need to take such hits out of their repertoire as well, or be subject to similar punishment.

Of course, that would require the NHL to show some consistency in its supplemental disciplinary process. That was never the case under previous regimes and it has been no better under Shanahan. So the hope that this suspension might lead to a safer working environment for other NHL players is marginalized by the NHL's track record of ineffective, inconsistent and often illogical attempts at justice.

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