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Armstrong suspension proves NHL system is flawed

Apr 2, 2010, 5:10 PM EDT

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It’s becoming such the norm around the hockey universe that it’s
become
exceedingly tiresome to get involved in. Endless debates about whether a
hit or play merits further discipline by the NHL has become the story
of the 2009-10 NHL season, and the fact that these debates continuously
rage proves that the current system is flawed.

The running joke
surrounds the NHL’s “Wheel of Justice”, playing up the arbitrary manner
in which Colin Campbell hands out suspensions. If you want an incredibly
(and scary) accurate portrayal of just how the messed up the NHL
suspension system is, go no further that Down Goes Brown’s NHL
Suspension Flow Chart
.

The latest such example of the
disparity in opinions surrounds the Colby Armstrong two-game suspension
for his flying forearm into the face of Washington’s Mathieu Perreault.
To some — like myself — the hit is immediately worthy of suspension.
Yet others, such as Puck
Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski
, feel that the play was worthy of perhaps a
four-minute roughing penalty and nothing more. He also notes that the
difference in opinion surrounding these plays is what makes the
suspensions so suspect.

The point is that blogs, fans,
coaches, players involved and
referees all viewed the play in different ways; which is a reminder the
entire
Wheel of Justice concept in the NHL is as much due to the bewildering
nature of
hockey plays as it is Colin Campbell’s inconsistency and the NHL’s
ineptitude.
OK, maybe it’s like 30 percent bewildering nature of hockey plays and 70
percent NHL ineptitude, on second thought.

Greg
mentions that the fact that the NHL doesn’t have a clear and
all-encompassing “head shot rule” makes this hit debatable and leads to
questions about the NHL’s decision to hand down a suspension.

Dismissing
the fact that it was a clear hand/forearm/elbow to Perreault’s face,
the fact that there was no penalty handed out for the hit itself is what
raises the biggest red flag. We know that NHL has decided — at the
very last minute — that it can suspend players for blind sided hits to
the head while in-game penalties don’t apply. But what about straight-on
elbows? Did the on-ice officials just miss the call, or did they decide
that it wasn’t an elbow and the hit was more about Perreault trying to
dodge than Armstrong laying out a dirty hit?

In either case, the
inconsistencies between the on-ice calls and the NHL’s decisions is what
makes the system such a joke. Writers and bloggers can debate the hits
all they want, but when the actual NHL officials don’t seem to agree is
when it become much more questionable.

Whatever your views on this
particular hit might be, Armstrong’s response to the suspension this
afternoon is what is most intriguing. Per
Chris Vivlamore of the AJC
Thrashers Blog:

“I reached across with my right
arm. I just tried
to get a piece of him. It happened the way it happened. By no means did I
mean to hit him
high. I’ve always been a guy that with my hits my arms are down. I hit
with my shoulder. I keep my arms in and try to hit the way I’m supposed
to. This one time, I got caught in a head-to-head going at him and he
gave me a couple moves and I just tried to get a piece of him and I paid
the price.”

Armstrong is known for his ability to lay out big open ice hits,
and it was obvious he made a mistake here. That he admits to playing the
hit wrong is perhaps most telling; like Ovechkin’s hit on Campbell, it
wasn’t that it was overtly dirty play is that it was a dangerous and
reckless one.

The NHL says it’s serious about cutting down on head shots, yet refused to years ago to outright ban all such hits. Now it’s starting to come down hard on borderline hits in the face of public scrutiny.

Until the NHL decides to actually be proactive in these matters, the league will forever be a joke when it comes to supplementary discipline.

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