Thursday, March 7, 2013

Frazer McLaren NHL Suspension Video

Leafs tough guy Frazer McLaren, right,  drops the Senators' Dave Dziurzynski with a hard right hand during a fight 26 seconds into Wednesday night's game at the Air Canada Centre. Dziurzynski suffered a concussion and did not return.
Photo courtesy

Last night in Toronto, an incident occurred in a game between the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Early in the first period, Frazer McLaren of the Maple Leafs and Dave Dziurzynski of the Senators dropped their gloves and exchanged blows, and before too long, McLaren struck Dziurzynski flush on the cheek, knocking the Senators player out.

This was a violation of Rule 46 - Fighting. McLaren was assessed a major penalty on the play.

Dziurzynski was injured on the play, suffering a serious concussion. McLaren targeted Dziurzynski's head on the play, striking him with a closed fist in a clear attempt to injure his opponent.

McLaren has a history as a repeat offender. Though he has not been suspended or fined during his NHL career, he has been assessed fighting majors on five other occasions this season.

The NHL Department of Player Safety has decided to suspend Frazer McLaren for zero games.

You won't be seeing Brendan Shanahan reading from this script today, or anytime soon. My apologies if you clicked on this link and actually thought this might be for real - and yes, the title of this post is intentionally deceptive.

But ask yourself: why is it that the NHL calls fighting a 'penalty' prohibited by the rules if it comes with special exemptions for supplementary discipline? Imagine you were told that a player on the Leafs had taken a major penalty on a play last night and knocked an opponent out cold. You'd immediately assume a suspension would be forthcoming. Why is it that the league says it's getting serious about 'player safety' when it has harsh penalties for hits that were formerly 'hockey plays' but allows carte blanche for fighting?

Like most fans, I enjoy seeing fights. It's thrilling, and even though I know staged fights (as last night's was) are a bit silly, I still find them entertaining the way I enjoyed watching pro wrestling when I was thirteen. But it's time to grow up. It's amazing that the NHL has made no moves to address this after what happened to Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, and what will happen to other players to come. Even if it's not another death, there will be plenty more players with brain damage in the coming years.

I realize, too, that fighting is important to the players, who like having tough guys on their team to discourage players on other teams from making cheap hits. I get that - and I realize eliminating fighting outright would be very hard to do.

But the NHL ought to do something, and the obvious step is to end the staged fights. If one arises naturally after a big hit, that's one thing. But when McLaren and Dziurzynski square off 26 seconds into a game to fight for little more than entertainment, that's a fight no one needs. The NHL should realize that these incidents are embarrassing - McLaren certainly did. After the fight, he didn't raise his arms, didn't salute the crowd, didn't pantomime as if he were putting on the prizefighter's belt. He looked ashamed of what he had done, embarrassed that he had hurt someone just so people could cheer. You can bet that's not what he imagined growing up with dreams of playing in the NHL.

You know, we ain't hockey players. We've been clowns.
We've been goons! We're the freaks in a fuckin' sideshow. We're nothing but a bunch of criminals. We oughta be in jail, that's all there is.... Yeah. Really ashamed of myself. See, Ned was right. Violence is killin' this sport. It's draggin' it through the mud. If things keep up the way they are, hockey players'll be nothing but actors, punks.
Well, I'm not playin' my last game that way.  ...Yeah. It's my last game, and I wanna play it straight. No more "Nail 'em." No more "Fuck with 'em." That's finished. I wanna win that championship tonight, but I wanna win it clean. Old-time hockey, like when I got started, you know? Jeez. Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore, those guys were the greats.
I don't know what to say. Christ, it's up to you.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

5 games for Patrick Kaleta: does it set a precedent?

Patrick Kaleta might not fear the NHL's discipline system after a 5-game suspension (photo courtesy

Patrick Kaleta's hit on Brad Richards earned him a 5-game suspension, as announced this afternoon by Brendan Shanahan. The NHL elected to carry out Kaleta's hearing over the phone, meaning 5 games was the maximum suspension that could be imposed. More serious suspensions can only be imposed in an in-person hearing.

If the league does impose a suspension of six games or more, the new CBA will allow players the right of an appeal to a 'neutral arbitrator', whose "standard of review will be whether the League's finding of violation of the League Playing Rules and the penalty imposed were both supported by substantial evidence."

It's not entirely clear what 'substantial evidence' will mean. Must suspensions be based on the precedents of other suspensions? For example, if another repeat offender makes the same hit tomorrow night, is the league forced to give him the same penalty? Or do they just need to show that they have some evidence? It's not clear from this whether arbitrators will have the mandate to show seference to the NHL's decisions, or whether they'll regularly pick apart the reasoning for the suspension imposed.

This leaves open the question: what would be sufficient to warrant a 6-plus game suspension? The answer, clearly, would be a serious injury. Kaleta's history as a repeat offender (two-game suspension in 2009, a fine and a four-gamer in 2011), and the seriousness of the hit (Shanahan described it as being in an "extremely dangerous" position near the boards) both supported a serious suspension, and the NHL's tendency has been to rapidly escalate suspensions for repeat offenders.

Now that the decision has been made to cap a hit like Kaleta's at five games, the league could face a test when hand out longer suspensions. If players can argue that other hits are no worse than Kaleta's (including, for example, a hit that results in a serious injury but comes from a first-time offender), imposing a longer suspension could prove impossible.