Ovechkin Hit With SuspensionPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
One of the best things – and there are a lot of “best things” – about my job is that every day is different. Every day is interesting. Today was more interesting than most. First, the whole Tim Thomas flap, where it was reported that he took his option on the Bruins’ team visit to the White House today. There was a lot of insightful and stimulating banter on both sides of the subject going round and round on Twitter. We’ve all got our opinions on what we think he should have done and what he actually did, and folks on both sides of the political spectrum came down on both sides of the argument, which made it all that much more fascinating for me. Some time after that embers of that furor began to dim, the NHL got around to announcing its decision on the Alex Ovechkin hearing. Ovechkin had a 1:30 p.m. hearing with the NHL powers that be to answer for a hit he made on Penguins’ defenseman Zbynek Michalek in Sunday’s game. Ironically enough, Michalek had a hearing of his own at 10:30 a.m. today as well, to answer for a hit of his own on Washington’s Matt Hendricks in the same game. I get that the NHL is trying to rid the game of both types of hits, and that protecting players is of utmost importance. I don’t like to see any players miss games for any injuries, but injuries do happen in the course of NHL games. Certainly, there are far too many players on the sidelines now for head injuries incurred from hits both accidental and deliberate. I also understand that prior violations play a part in the issuance of discipline resulting from hits to the head, and that was one of NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan’s reasons for suspending Ovechkin for three games for his hit on Michalek. Hockey is a game of mistakes and referees make mistakes, too. Ovechkin wasn’t penalized during the game for his hit while Michalek was. That doesn’t excuse either incident from further disciplinary action. What I don’t get is why Michalek didn’t receive as much as a fine for his own transgression. The maximum fine allowable is $2500, which is a lot to you and me, but the equivalent of a parking ticket to most NHL players. Shanahan issues informative video explanations for suspensions, but doesn't do the same for hearings that don't result in any disciplinary action. We're left to assume that the hit was "okay," beyond the two-minute penance served in-game. Michalek has no prior record. And the next time he elbows one of his fellow NHLPA members in the head, he still won’t have one. The NHL wants head hits out of the game, but I guess you get freebie or two before you have to start paying the piper. Michalek and Hendricks both remained in the game and weren’t hurt, which is very fortunate for both players and their teams. That, according to Shanahan, also figures in the punishment. And now we’re back to irony. Because if an NHL player punches another NHL player in the head in a fight – which, by the way, occurs during a stoppage of play – there is no punishment. Just to review: the NHL wants to protect players’ heads and get head hits out of the game. If you finish your check and come up high, or leave your feet, or are guilty of boarding or charging or the like, you run the risk of a suspension. As it should be. I’m just not exactly sure why body contact to the head with the clock running is subject to discipline and fistic contact to the head with the clock stopped is not. Body contact to the head can be deliberate or not. Fistic contact is always deliberate. I understand the existence of fighting in hockey. But it seems a little odd to me that the NHL is being so vigilant in one area and so lax in another. Maybe it’s just the NHL being the NHL. Ovechkin getting five games and Michalek getting a token fine would have made more sense to me than Ovechkin getting three and Michalek getting a hall pass. I figured Ovechkin would get one, two games max. Figured Michalek would get a fine. Wrong and wrong. It is strange to me is that two incidents in the same game receive such disparate discipline. I would think Ovechkin might have reasonable grounds for appealing for a shorter sentence, were he to pursue such a route through the NHLPA. It’s an avenue rarely pursued by suspended players. Finally, the Ovechkin suspension extends beyond the NHL’s All-Star Game on Sunday, and the league recently named the Caps’ captain as one of the league’s all-stars. Naturally, the league wants Ovechkin to play in the All-Star game. Me, I wonder why he should. He is suspended without pay. He was not voted into the All-Star game by the fans. He is currently tied for 36th in the league in scoring and was quite clearly named to the game for his star appeal more than his 2011-12 résumé. Ovechkin was quoted as saying that he had to cancel vacation plans when he was somewhat surprisingly named as an all-star anyway, so now that he is suspended without pay, why shouldn’t he be able to do as he was planning on doing, do what most NHL players do during the break. Where should Ovechkin’s allegiances lie here? The Caps are in eighth place, in the – in recent seasons, anyway – uncustomary position of fighting for a playoff spot. What scenario does Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals more good, him going to Ottawa and facing down a phalanx of reporters and cameras asking more questions about the suspension, or him resting up and getting his mind off the game for a few days like 95% of the rest of the league and his teammates? As a kid growing up, I always wanted as few of the players on my favorite team as possible in the All-Star game, whether it was hockey or baseball. The regular season is a grind. The goal is to make the playoffs and win a championship, not to be named to some glorified beauty pageant of an exhibition game. Time off is precious. I hope Ovechkin takes some here.
Winning the final game before the All-Star break is always a boost. When you win that game against the defending Stanley Cup champions – and still one of the league’s top teams – and you win it without the services of three of your top offensive players, it’s even more of a boost. The Caps’ 5-3 win