The first night of the NHL playoffs are going to be a tough act to follow. They had the best cable debut since 2002 and a pile of storylines to follow, but with the league’s popularity at a high they’re on the cusp of blowing it. Hockey isn’t taken seriously by many sports fans because of the buffoon image that it has and since the lockout in 2004-2005 the NHL has tried attracted new fans. They’ve expanded south into traditional football and baseball markets. Despite terrible attendance at times the NHL hasn’t done an all around awful job picking up new viewers, even equating its numbers to the NBA.
Which makes it all the more confusing why the NHL flubbed the Shea Weber incident last night. Concussions have been a major issue and while the league has claimed they’re a priority, they doled out only a $2,500 for this:
That’s a $2,500 fine for a guy who makes $7,500,000. Equivalent to a $16 fine for someone who makes $48,000 a year. Weber makes about $2,500 per shift. There’s no defense but the league claimed a suspension wasn’t justified because Henrik Zetterberg (the crash test dummy here) wasn’t hurt on the play. Now, I should mention here for any non hockey fans reading that Weber is the young captain of a franchise that hasn’t had much success in the playoffs. He’s a superstar on a team the league needs to succeed. Conspiracy? Maybe and maybe not but the alternative is that the league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has become the definition of the most overused post-game quote this year, “gutless.”
Meanwhile across the continent, Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford was labeled by Vancouver Canucks tough guy Byron Bitz. Bitz is facing a hearing with the league, meaning he’ll almost definitely be suspended. Here it is:
Now, I want to point out here that I love it when one players absolutely flattens another. Who doesn’t? Some hits can make your stomach churn, though, and that Weber example isn’t the first. When I talk to fans of other sports it’s tough to defend the NHL when the conversation turns to the lack of accountability players have. Actually tough isn’t the word, it’s impossible.
Obviously major sports leagues want their star players to play when it matters the most but there are times they need to draw a line. That time has passed, Shanahan stepped in as NHL Sheriff after a wave of criticism pulled out his predecessor Colin Campbell and it seems Shanny is already going down the same path. Hopefully those fans from the south are into wrestling, too.