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The NHL lost its way in suspending Hjalmarsson and Wisniewski

Oct 12, 2010, 11:13 PM EST

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Leave it to the NHL to drum up controversy without even really trying. Today, the NHL handed out two-game suspensions to both James Wisniewski and Niklas Hjalmarsson for on-ice incidents. Of course, what lead to them getting suspended are two entirely different matters entirely. Hjalmarsson was suspended for his hit from behind on Sabres forward Jason Pominville, meanwhile Wisniewski was suspended an obscene gesture directed towards Rangers pest Sean Avery.

One action a completely boneheaded play on the ice with no regard for one’s opponent, the other a completely boneheaded action meant to insult an opponent, both yielding the same punishment. Some feel that Wisniewski was dealt with too harshly, as Chris Botta of NHL Fanhouse does comparing his action to that of Chicago’s Nick Boynton who got a one game suspension for a throat-slash gesture.

No, he didn’t think. That’s why, as unseemly as the moment was, he deserves a pass. For those few seconds in the heat of battle against one of the game’s most notorious characters, James Wisniewski might have thought he was playing against the rest of the 15-year-olds at 6:00 am in Michigan. He might have forgotten that he wasn’t knocking the puck around with his buddies on the available ice at midnight. Wisniewski lost his way, but it was only because his intensity blurred the thought of where he was.

Forgetting where you are doesn’t excuse doing something like that in full view of the viewing public. There is no workplace or professional sports league that tolerates anything like that. The fact that he gets suspended for it is harsh, for sure, but this is a league that set the precedent that they’re going to be family-friendly come hell or high water.

How else do you explain Wisniewski’s nemesis Avery getting sat down ultimately for six games for being a nasty gossip about his old girlfriend to the media? You can’t explain it, so even trying to wrap your head around the process will only make you insane. TSN’s Bob McKenzie has made the case that there’s a distinct difference between what Avery did in Calgary years ago to what Wisniewski did on the ice yesterday and there is a difference, but the end result as far as the NHL is concerned is the same thing. Acting out that way is bad for business and makes everyone else look bad. Hey there’s a reason why guys like Avery or Wisniewski don’t get mic’ed up for national broadcasts.

Meanwhile in Chicago, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers says the punishment for Hjalmarsson fits the crime.

The bottom line is, Hjalmarsson hit Pominville in the numbers. Specifically, in the number 9 on his 29 jersey. Pominville didn’t make a dramatic turn of his back at the last minute to make it worse and you can’t blame him for the way he fell. The hit was from behind enough to warrant a suspension, considering the way Pominville hit the glass. How a player falls plays a part, whether it’s in the rulebook or not.

If Pominville had fallen into another player or simply hit the boards without his head hitting the glass, who knows what the outcome would have been. But hit a guy from behind, or close to it, and you better expect the worst to occur.

Spot on analysis from Rogers and it alludes to something we said earlier regarding this situation. The point being that the act is being punished and not the end result. You hit a guy when they’re not looking and you’re going to get yourself in trouble because you’re endangering your fellow man.

What’s bothersome here is how these two distinctly different actions managed to bring about the same punishment. A very public PR faux pas gets the same treatment as a dangerous hit from behind. How is this even remotely possible? The NHL has been focused on keeping a good face for the public. They’ve cracked down on fighting to the point now where a huge brawl is a rarity and fortunately for them most of the players are able to keep their noses clean and aren’t getting into trouble in embarrassing ways. Saving face for the public while not doing much to consistently punish those on the ice that cause problems for other players is maddening and nonsensical.

The league needs to start looking at things like this: Is it more important for the league to crack down on guys who are bad in front of the camera or do their part to keep everyone on the ice protected. At some point protecting the fans’ delicate sensibilities has to take a back seat to protecting their own players. Something has to give and perhaps taking NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell out of the smoky room and give everyone a standard to follow would do everyone a world of good.

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