While this won't win me any fans in New England, I really think the NHL got it wrong when they decided to suspend Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome for the remainder of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who thinks head shots should be addressed in a similar way to high sticks: if you deliver a head shot, you should be penalized for it (penalty and/or fine and/or suspension depending of the severity of it) whether there was intent or not.
Let me also say it was a horrible injury suffered by Bruins forward Nathan Horton. And yes, the hit by Rome was late, which is why he was assessed a major for interference and a game misconduct on the play.
But to go beyond that in these circumstances truly doesn't make sense, especially in light of some of the past decisions the NHL has rendered in similar cases. In fact, the four-game suspension handed down by the NHL is the longest in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals.
First off, the Rome hit on Horton was not a blind-sided head shot. Rome came at Horton "north-south" according to NHL officials on a play where the Bruins' forward had the puck, dished the puck off to a teammate on the rush and admired his pass after he made it. Had Horton kept his head up as all hockey players are taught to do, the hit would have been less severe or possibly averted altogether.
Another factor here is this: the injury to Horton occurred more from the impact of his head hitting the ice than it was directly from the blow delivered by Rome's hit. The bottom line is that had Horton gotten up and skated away on his own power after the hit, at most, we're looking at a 2:00 minor for interference here, not a four-game suspension that will cost Rome a chance to play in the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.
NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy made it clear the case did not involve a head shot when he was interviewed about the decision to suspend Rome.
"This has nothing to do with Rule 48," Murphy said. "This is just an interference penalty, an interference hit. If it was immediate after he released the puck, it was be a legal hit. We have them all the time."
This was a bang-bang play so to speak. How quickly did the play go down? On the NHL Network's show On the Fly, hosts indicated it was just under one second after Horton let go of the puck that he was hit by Rome. This is not a premeditated situation like Todd Bertuzzi who was head-hunting and trying to deliberately hurt somebody back in 2004. This was a hockey play in which less than one second elapsed between the release of puck and contact being made between Rome and Horton. The league standard: one half a second. So the lateness we're talking about here is even less than one half second.
Two cases that come to mind when discussing this suspension are the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty earlier this season and the Alex Burrows biting incident in game one of the series. Neither of them resulted in suspensions.
The Pacioretty incident in particular is illustrative here because it involved an interference play where the impact of the landing caused a severe injury not the hit itself. Both hits were late and involved players who no longer had the puck. Both involved situations where the victim of the hit was badly hurt and was forced to miss significant playing time. Chara was not suspended by the league. Rome, however, is being suspended despite the fact that the league admits that suspending someone for one playoff game is more serious than suspending a player for one regular season game.
The Burrows incident comes to mind because like the Rome hit, it took place during the Stanley Cup Finals. Unlike the Rome/Horton hit, however, Burrows biting Patrice Bergeron is not even part of a hockey play. It is part of the extracurricular pushing and shoving that often goes on after the whistle blows, but it was not part of the game itself and was clearly outside the rules.
The league's decision not to suspend Burrows was based on the fact that Murphy could "find no conclusive evidence that Alex Burrows intentionally bit the finger of Patrice Bergeron." The video of the incident seems to clearly show otherwise.
One gets the feeling if the Burrows biting incident had happened during the regular season, a suspension would have resulted, but because this was the Stanley Cup Finals, the league tried to find a way not to suspend Burrows.
By deciding not to suspend Burrows, the league was deciding games as much as they were by deciding to suspend him. Burrows scored twice and added an assist in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. One of his goals was the overtime game winner.
The bottom line may simply be this: Zdeno Chara is a perennial all-star and Norris Trophy candidate. Alex Burrows is a top-six forward on the Canucks who scored more than 30 goals a year ago and more than 25 this season. But Aaron Rome is a sixth defenseman, a fringe player at best. He was expendable. Most fans wouldn't even notice that he wasn't in the lineup.
The bottom line remains that the league is just not consistent when it comes to suspensions. Making decisions on suspensions is a thankless job because somebody is always upset by the decision. Let's just hope Brendan Shanahan makes things better for the league when he takes over the role at the start of next season. Right now, there is no rhyme or reason to decisions and they just seem arbitrary. Just ask Aaron Rome or Max Pacioretty...