Well, the Flyers have their rallying cry.
NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan has done it. He has suspended the Flyers’ Claude Giroux for one game for a hit to the head of the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus in Game 4 of their playoff series Sunday night. Shanahan has suspended a superstar player with no discipline history, for a hit that did not cause an injury, for a game in which his team can be eliminated.
Brave new world.
I didn’t think the hit was worth a suspension -- because Giroux did not have a history, and because Zubrus did not sustain a significant injury, and because the 6-foot-5 Zubrus was kind of leaning over already -- it was the only way the 5-foot-11 Giroux could have contacted Zubrus’ face with his shoulder. There was all of that, which made it a close call -- and there was Giroux’s status on his team and the precariousness of his team’s current circumstances, trailing three games to one in the series.
It didn’t matter. It was going to be close, and Shanahan has made a clear statement here. His willingness to suspend a star without a rap sheet, on a hit without an injury, at such a crucial moment in a playoff series, will send shockwaves around the NHL -- make no mistake. If this is the way it is going to be, we really have crossed a threshold.
Shanahan typically releases a video explanation after such a decision, and it was comprehensive in its analysis. He placed a lot of emphasis on the entirety of Giroux's shift, which was fraught with obvious frustration about a call that the officials did not make after Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur played the puck outside of the designated area. And, make no mistake: Giroux did hit Zubrus in the head, and that is against the rules, and he was properly penalized and the situation was properly reviewed by the NHL.
But we have broken new ground here. The clean history did not matter. The injury situation did not matter. What have sometimes been considered as mitigating factors were not enough to mitigate things for Giroux in an undeniably crucial situation for his team.
In my mind, the decision was too harsh. It was close, but given everything -- and, yes, for better or worse, that does include the fact it is an elimination game -- it seemed to suggest a fine and and a warning, not a suspension.
But, no. And now the Flyers will undoubtedly attempt to summon up whatever emotion they can as they try to overcome the loss of their best player. And the rest of the league will attempt to recalibrate their expectations for discipline the next time.
Brave new world.
MORE: Here are some additional thoughts, after a couple of hours of thinking about it.
It was after Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins series. It was, you might remember, the night was the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin was completing his second straight game of searching and destroying and pretty obviously trying to hurt an array of Flyers players.
In Game 4, there was the sneaky elbow that gave Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann a concussion. In Game 5, there were two incidents: an unnecessary late hit on Brayden Schenn and an assault on Sean Couturier that, if it wasn’t a head shot, was within millimeters of being one. The Grossmann play went unseen by officials. Both of the Game 5 hits were penalized. And afterward, in the corridors below Consol Energy Center, I sought out Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.
There was a time when it was the general manager’s job to work the officials between games of a playoff series. I was wondering if Holmgren wanted to play on the subject of Malkin. I asked the question, and he thought for a second, and then he shook his head and said, “No.”
Some of that is the man’s personality, not given to histrionics. Some of it, too, was his notion of what it is to be a good citizen in the NHL in 2012, and what it is to respect Brendan Shanahan and the whole discipline process. But there also was the sense, although he never said it, that Holmgren also was operating under the mental rules that have been a part of hockey forever.
That is: that the Penguins were on the edge of elimination, and Malkin is a star player, and those three unspoken words:
It’s the playoffs.
It is why I did not think Giroux would be suspended for his hit on Zubrus. I get that Giroux hit him in the head. But he has no history, and Zubrus was not hurt, and so many other prominent players appeared to receive the benefit of the doubt from Shanahan. Malkin did, a couple of times. The Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin did when he hit the Rangers’ Dan Girardi. The Penguins’ James Neal did when he leveled Couturier.
So why not Giroux? Why did he not receive the benefit of the doubt? Is he not a star, too? Is his team not in a desperate elimination situation, too, just as Malkin was when he spent two games wreaking havoc in the land?
The answer, apparently, is that Giroux’s was such a clear head shot that the league could not overlook it, and that the others were more body checks that involved incidental contact to the head. It is a difference without a distinction when you are the one laid out on the ice, but it is a crucial difference for the NHL.
You watch Shanahan on the video reviews and you almost never disagree with anything he says as he analyzes the pictures. Yes, Giroux was outwardly frustrated. Yes, he hit Zubrus in the head -- even if Zubrus was kind of bent over. It isn’t the analysis, but the conclusion.
If not Ovechkin, and if not Malkin, why Giroux? Because it is not as if any of them were innocent. That's the point.