By now we have all heard that Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has been suspended 2 games for his hit on Brian Campbell. Was the hit really that bad? Ovechkin did push him late, but it was not a bone crushing hit by any means. I do not think that Ovechkin's hit warrants a 2 game suspension. Campbell hurt himself mainly due to the awkward fall and the speed and momentum with which he was skating.
I admit I am biased as a Capitals fan and would be angry if it had happened to one of our own players. Having said that, I do remember the wicked hit Chris Pronger put on Mike Green last year, which thread Green into the boards and left him with a shoulder injury through the entire plays. I do not think Colin Campbell, head NHL disciplinarian really knows what he is doing anymore. There is no consistency in the penalties and therefore referees and players do not know what is and is not allowed.
We can not say Ovechkin was suspended because he has prior troubles with the NHL. Tampa Bay player Steve Downie has a history. He was suspended 20 games in 2007, his rookie season, for a check to the head. He also had conduct problems in the AHL afterward. In 2009, he slashed an official and received a game misconduct and a 20 game suspension. Well this past Sunday, the same day as Ovechkin's hit, Downie took a dirty hit at Penguins star Sidney Crosby. Downie had no contact with Crosby until after Crosby passed the puck, and then proceeded to knock Crosby into the boards and take out Crosby's legs from behind him. Crosby passed the puck before center ice and Downie hit him near the blue line and fell with him well into Tampa territory. Luckily Crosby was okay. But what did Downie get? A trivial 2 minute penalty and a fine. No suspension. Everyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I hate Crosby. So I would be one of the last to speak up for him. But I do not want him to get hurt and I can see this was a dirty hit.
Another prime example of the inconsistency with the League's discipline is the hit that Matt Cooke had on Marc Savard. On March 7th, Cooke hit Savard high at his head and Savard went down with a "serious concussion." Savard had to be carted off on a stretcher and it looks like he may miss the rest of the season. Cooke also has a recent history of dirty hits. He was suspended twice in the last 2 seasons (2 games each) for head hits on Artem Anisimov and Scott Walker. What did Cooke get for this hit? NOTHING. No penalty. No fine. No suspension. No justice.
There was also the hit that Flyers Mike Richards put on David Booth of the Florida Panthers in October. This was a similar hit to Savard's in which Booth was out for 45 games with a Grade 3 concussion. Richards also received no suspension. The reason that "disciplinarian" Campbell provided for not suspending Cooke is that he needed to remain consistent with this decision to not suspend Richards. Obviously, this consistency was thrown out 7 days later with Ovechkin.
These are not the only examples of NHL conduct problems. There have been dirty hits in the NHL for years. The NHL should have its rules defined by now. Clearly I disagree with Ovechkin's suspension. I do disapprove of the hit, but I think a 5 minute major would have sufficed. However, it is not simply because of my own opinion of the hit. I do not agree with the suspension more due to the inconsistency of the NHL's punishments. How come goons with prior troubles who make dirty hits can get off with a slap on the wrist at best? Does Campbell only suspend Ovechkin to make a statement because he is a great, high-profile player? Or is it because Campbell may be out for the season? Punishments and rules should be consistent across the board no matter who the player is or how injured the victim becomes.