Starkey: Letang verdict half right
Tough job. That phrase comes to mind every time I watch Brendan Shanahan explain his latest punishment via streaming video on nhl.com.
The NHL's new head of discipline looks as if he's aged 10 years in two months. I can see why. In emerging from the Paleolithic Age, the NHL has entered a hypersensitive era in which every questionable hit is broken down like the Zapruder film.
Unless it's a cheap shot as obvious as the one Matt Cooke put on Ryan McDonagh last season, most disputable hits these days leave massive gray area for interpretation.
Somebody is going to be very unhappy with every Shanahan ruling.
Not that I'm feeling too badly for the guy. I don't know what he makes, but his predecessor, Colin Campbell, hauled in nearly $1.4 million in the fiscal year 2008-09, according to the Sports Business Journal. Who wouldn't take flak for that kind of money?
The idea is for Shanahan to bring a 21st-century mindset and a modern player's eye to the job. Let's hope he brings a high degree of consistency, as well. His detailed video explanations are much appreciated — and helped change my mind regarding Penguins defenseman Kris Letang's hit on Winnipeg's Alex Burmistrov three nights ago.
Letang will serve the second of his two-game suspension tonight.
Not that I agreed with all of Shanahan's reasoning. He was half right, which is why it should have been a one-game suspension.
At first blush, I thought the hit merited nothing more than the boarding minor Letang received. That was based on replays shown on the Root Sports broadcast. I hadn't yet seen the reverse-angle replay shown on Shanahan's video explanation and on the Root Sports broadcast before the next night's game.
The new angle clearly showed the force with which Letang sent Burmistrov flying face-first into the boards. It was an unnecessary and dangerous hit, one that should be removed from the game.
Shanahan was absolutely right when he said Letang was "looking at Burmistrov in the numbers" and "fails to minimize the check."
Shanahan was blatantly wrong when he said, "Burmistrov's path to the puck is predictable."
Burmistrov was near the blue line, facing the blue line, corraling a loose puck. The obvious and predictable path would have been for him to clear the puck. To move forward. Instead, he turned back into the zone. It forced Letang to make a sudden shift and adjust his hitting angle.
How could Shanahan not acknowledge that?
Even Burmistrov admitted as much, telling the Winnipeg Free Press, "I think (Letang) did not do this on purpose. He came to me, and I turned back ... "
It doesn't seem right that Letang's punishment was essentially the same as the one Flyers forward Tom Sestito received for a much-worse, blind-side hit in a preseason game. Sestito took a running start and picked up speed before he crushed the Rangers' Andre Deveaux. For that, he was suspended two preseason games and two regular-season games.
Also in the preseason, Shanahan was widely praised for being "tough" on Philadelphia's Jody Shelley, who delivered a sickening hit to Toronto's Darryl Boyce, blasting him head-first into the glass. Shelley got five preseason games — meaningless, considering players don't dress for all preseason games — and five regular-season games.
Shelley has a long history of creating mayhem. Just last season, he was suspended twice in a month. If Shanahan really wanted to get tough, he would have Cooke-ed Shelley for 15-plus games.
Speaking of Cooke, why no video explaining why Cory Sarich wasn't suspended for cracking him in the skull?
I also don't like the fact that Shanahan relies so heavily on whether the victim of the hit was injured. The point is that the player could have been injured.
Oh well, everyone has an opinion. Lots of gray area. Lots of hard decisions.