In the final seconds of Wednesday night’s first-round NHL Playoff game between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings, Predators defenseman Shea Weber threw a punch at Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg.
Then, after failing to land the punch in the back of Zetterberg’s head, Weber slammed Zetterberg’s head into the glass.
Yesterday the NHL’s Department of Player Safety fined Weber $2,500 but did not suspend him.
Failing to suspend Weber was a mistake.
Here’s a .gif of the incident from SBNation:
$2,500 is the maximum fine allowed under the NHL’s current CBA. NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan suggested that Weber got off with such a mild punishment because Zetterberg sustained no injuries. Shanahan also said that Weber’s actions on Wednesday would be a significant factor “in assessing any incidents involving Shea Weber throughout the remainder of the playoffs.”
Shanahan came down harder on Byron Bitz of the Vancouver Canucks yesterday, suspending him two games for a hit Wednesday night on Kyle Clifford of the L.A. Kings. Bitz’s hit, while not as blatant as what Weber did, resulted in injury, and Clifford will miss at least one game.
I’m a Nashville Predators fan who wants nothing more from the next two weeks than to see the Preds eliminate my least favorite NHL team and advance to the second round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Considering how well the Red Wings play at home and how vulnerable they are on the road, it is vital that the Preds win tonight and maintain home ice advantage for the series. And winning tonight would have been much more difficult without the services of the Preds’ captain and best player.
That said, I think the NHL should have suspended Shea Weber for Game 2 (and maybe Game 3 as well).
As a Predators fan, I’m obligated to tell you that Zetterberg shot first, hitting Weber from behind. But Zetterberg’s hit, though unnecessary, was mostly harmless.
Weber’s response was reckless and dangerous.
Zetterberg skated away from the incident unscathed, but no one would have been surprised if the scuffle had resulted in a concussion or other head injury. By failing to suspend Weber, the NHL missed an opportunity to make a statement about player safety and what sort of play will not be tolerated.
That’s one reason I wish Weber had been suspended. My other reasons are selfish.
As a fan, I don’t want anyone to get the impression that my team had an unfair advantage.
I’m uncomfortable whenever a big discrepancy in penalty minutes, personal fouls, or penalty yards works in favor of my team. In most situations, I’d prefer to be the victim of a bad call or decision by the league office than the beneficiary. If my team wins, I want there to be no doubt that they deserved the victory.
If the Predators end up winning this series, I don’t want to have to listen to Red Wings fans say, “Yes, but, your best player shouldn’t have played in Game 2.” Granted, after most any game or series, fans of the losing team find something to complain about or identify some reason why their team shouldn’t have lost.
But in this situation, Red Wings fans would be right; and there’s nothing worse than having to admit that Red Wings fans are right.
I’m also concerned about the impact of this incident and the lack of punishment on the rest of the series.
If Shea Weber had pulled this stunt in an NBA game, David Stern wouldn’t let him step back onto the court until 2013. (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean.) The NHL is much more lenient, allowing players to police themselves. And since the league didn’t punish Weber (and $2,500 isn’t punishment for a player who is making $7.5 million this season), I have to imagine that Niklas Kronwall or some other Red Wing will. Then, depending on the severity of the retaliation, I’ll have to worry about what Jordin Tootoo will do in response.
These teams will face each other at least three more times and will have plenty of opportunities to discipline each other. The NHL would have been wise to take that responsibility out of the players’ hands.
Shea Weber will play tonight, and I hope he plays well and that the Predators win. But I’ll feel better in the long run if Weber plays poorly and the Preds lose Game 2 then ultimately find a way to win the series.