A month ago, Caps' sophomore star forward Alexander Ovechkin caught Buffalo's Daniel Briere with a blatant cheapshot during a line change. The 2005-06 Calder winner's check from behind knocked the Sabres' offensive leader into the boards. For all parties involved during that December 2 incident at Verizon Center in the nation's capital, they were fortunate that the Buffalo captain wasn't seriously injured. Especially on a dangerous blindside hit which could've resulted in a concussion.
If you give Ovechkin the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn't realize his strength. The fiery 21 year-old Russian plays the game like a bull giving everything he has every shift. It's resulted so far in another great season with the former 2004 first overall pick tied for the league lead with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis in goalscoring with 25 goals. With an assist in Monday afternoon's 3-2 loss to Phoenix, the Washington sniper moved into fifth in scoring with 51 points.
There's little doubt that he is a special player who gets the most of his talent. And that is a good thing for not only his team but for the NHL. He is a superstar who the league should promote at every turn. However, they shouldn't turn the other cheek when he makes a mistake and nearly injures another player. Unfortunately, that's essentially what happened. Instead of facing suspension, the affable Russian got a slap on the wrist, instead being fined $1,000.
Fast forward to the rematch between the teams last week in Buffalo. The Sabres made a statement by scoring the game's first six goals in a dominant first before cruising to a 6-3 win at HSBC Arena on December 26. In the same game, Briere took a cheapshot of his own spearing Ovechkin to the ice while officials were screened out by Buffalo teammate Brian Campbell, causing it to be undetected. To Ovechkin's credit, he got up and challenged Briere to a fight. But Briere's teammates prevented it.
According to the rulebook, a deliberate spear attempt is cause for a five minute major, automatic game misconduct and a league review. A few days ago, this incident was reviewed by the league before the Sabres took on Carolina. Predictably, nothing happened allowing Briere to dress and notch an assist in a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes on December 28.
So, in two instances where a star player was involved in a cheap play, they didn't miss a game and only one was fined.
Now let's examine what took place this past Saturday night at the Garden during the Rangers' 4-1 victory over the Caps. Throughout the relatively chippy contest, Washington goon and NHL bad boy Donald Brashear ran several Rangers including star captain Jaromir Jagr. This wasn't any surprise as playing the moody Czech physical has seemed to get him off his game. However, during a faceoff in the third period, the ex-Flyer enforcer elbowed Jagr. On the same shift, No.68 retaliated by taking down the big man drawing an interference penalty. When Brashear returned to the bench, he was called out by Ranger star Brendan Shanahan. During their next shift, Shanahan challenged Brashear to a fight, sticking up for Jagr and gaining a ton of respect from teammates and the home crowd who ate it up chanting, "Shanny, Shanny, Shanny."
It was quite a statement made by the 37 year-old leading goalscorer for the Blueshirts. Never one to back away from a challenge he issues, the 600 goal member took his lumps and did relatively well even landing a couple of uppercuts. When the scrap concluded, Brashear's theatrics weren't over. Apparently Ranger defenseman Aaron Ward uttered something to him which he didn't like. He reacted by suckerpunching Ward in the face, drawing a match penalty and automatic ejection ending his night.
Not to be outdone was Ranger enforcer Colton Orr, who late in the second stuck up for Ryan Hollweg and took on Brashear. With under five minutes remaining in the contest, the 24 year-old Manitoban cheapshotted Ovechkin with a high hit to the head knocking down the star and drawing a charging minor before accepting Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn's challenge.
There's little doubt that Orr's move was dangerous and could've resulted in serious injury to Ovechkin. So when NHL Senior Executive VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell ruled on it yesterday, it was no surprise that the former Bruin faced serious suspension. As a first time offender, he was given five games and lost $13,235.29.
Now consider that 34 year-old Brashear has been in the league much longer and was a repeat offender who had already been suspended three games this season. Somehow, he only got one game for his suckerpunch.
Here was Mr. Campbell's statement on why Orr received four extra games:
"The Rangers player’s actions with his stick were reckless and dangerous. Although no injury resulted, the action is unacceptable."
This seems like a fair assessment. For the record, I don't have a problem with why Orr got five games. However, how does Brashear get only a game? Was that not dangerous? He could've fractured Ward's cheekbone. Was it as bad as what Orr did? Probably not. But it should have been worth at least three games.
Punches like that can do damage. Just ask former Ranger Jeff Beukeboom, who suffered a career ending concussion after a Matt Johnson cheapshot to the back of the head.
But what's the sense trying to make sense of a league which has gone soft? This is the new corporate NHL. Where they protect superstars even when those stars are in the wrong committing violent acts like the ones Ovechkin and Briere got away with on each other. Do you think for one second if it was a little known fourth liner, they wouldn't have been severely punished?
And that is what's wrong with this newer softer product which is full of hypocrisy. Why should one set of players be held to a higher standard? Shouldn't there be some consistency? Not anymore.
All commish Gary Bettman's game is doing is turning off diehard supporters. If you don't believe me, just look at the responses this got on TSN:
The real hockey fans know the deal with what they're seeing. But they no longer matter in Bettman's NHL. An NHL which has turned its back on the diehards.
Is it worth it? But hey. As long as they have enough corporate sponsors telling them what to do, it's not going to change anytime soon. That's who they're selling the game to.