Monday, May 11, 2009


$2,500. That's how much Aaron Ward's orbital bone is worth, according to the NHL.

The National Hockey League is a lot like the Democratic Party. They come up with all sorts of lofty goals and officiating philosophies, but when the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan, the NHL loses its nerve, goes flacid, and tucks its tail between its tail.

The NHL's latest failed crusade was a campaign against "message sending" in the postseason, particularly at the end of games. You get a 3 or 4 goal blowout, one team decides to take advantage of the situation and get under their opponents skin. But with 2:47 left, when Scott Walker punched Aaron Ward - who had his gloves on and his fists down - in the face, the NHL went out of its way to not punish Walker or the Hurricanes.

Technically, Scott Walker was suspended. An instigator penalty in the final 5 minutes of a game is an AUTOMATIC SUSPENSION, that can only be lifted if the Commissioner pardons the offending player. In other words, Walker was guilty until proven innocent, at least that's how the NHL saw it.

Remember this?

Lucic was suspended for 1 game, and rightfully so.

And remember this?

Avery got 6 games for that.

So make fun of an opponent's choice of girlfriends, you get suspended for 6 games. Punch an opponent in the face in a game that's all but over, and you get fined $2500.

Gary Bettman and the NHL honchos might be the worst bosses in the world of sports, and this is example #16,542 of their ineptitude.

Aaron Ward will travel to Raleigh with the team, but it's still unclear if he'll play. The Bruins were already hurting at the defenseman position, and Carolina won't even lose a game from their mediocre 5 goal, 10 assist winger. But he'll lose $2500. That's 0.3% of his average annual salary. Think he'll need a pledge drive to pay it off?

The NHL failed to do several things in this situation:

Discourage message sending late in games

Discourage dirty play in general

Encourage the notion that dirty play will punish both the player and the team

Keep the series under control by punishing dirty play, instead of letting Shawn Thornton do the punishing in Game 6.

If I'm Scott Walker, I'd keep my head on a swivel, because Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, and Byron Bitz will all know when and where Walker is. Hopefully they let Walker spend all of Game 6 fearing retribution. But I can just see Chara going after Walker, getting an instigator penalty, and NOT having his automatic suspension pardoned by the NHL.

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