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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: Teams' complaints about player suspensions 'gamesmanship'

NEW YORK, N.Y. - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman considers those complaints from various teams about their players receiving suspensions during the post-season as nothing more than "gamesmanship."

Take the Washington Capitals' statement disagreeing with the one-game ban for centre Nicklas Backstrom.

"That doesn't mean anything. They didn't like it," Bettman said Friday. "The fact is, it was a cross-check to the face. It deserved a game."

Criticism of the league's disciplinary decisions as inconsistent is simply a matter of perspective, Bettman insisted during an Associated Press Sports Editors meeting.

Nine players were issued suspensions through the first eight days of the playoffs. Those included two games for Vancouver forward Byron Bitz for a hit to the head on the Kings' Kyle Clifford and three games for Chicago's Andrew Shaw for running over Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.

"Everybody will have a different view," Bettman said. "In Vancouver, they probably thought Bitz was being picked on and got suspended for too much. In Chicago, everybody felt that Shaw shouldn't have been suspended at all because Smith was faking."

"Not the case," the commissioner quickly added of the accusation against Smith.

Bettman spoke shortly before league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan held a hearing with Phoenix forward Raffi Torres, who is suspended indefinitely for launching himself into Chicago's Marian Hossa on Tuesday.

Hossa was taken off the ice on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized, but Torres wasn't penalized during the game. Bettman said he couldn't comment on the case while the process was ongoing, saying only, "Most people who have observed it think it should've been a penalty."

Bettman didn't think it was feasible to change in-game officiating in a way to ensure that similar calls aren't missed.

"Our game is too fast, taking place from too many different angles that vary from building to building," he said.

Shanahan has been criticized for not suspending Nashville's Shea Weber after he smashed the head of Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg into the glass at the end of Game 1 of their series. Weber was fined $2,500, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

Bettman deemed the punishment appropriate, saying the situation was "blown completely out of context." He suggested that the distinction between the maximum fine and a one-game suspension—which he said was the most he'd heard anyone call for—wasn't meaningful in deterring future offences.

"It was a clear statement that what he did was wrong," Bettman said. "I have pretty high confidence in Brendan Shanahan—having been on the ice recently and the type of player he was—he knows exactly what took place there and how big a deal it was. ... Whether or not it was the maximum fine or a one-game suspension hardly has anything to do with any of the other things we're talking about."

He added Shanahan "is doing a very, very good job."

Bettman proudly noted that the average number of hits per game had grown from 45 during the regular season to 68 in the playoffs through Wednesday. Emphasizing that he was referring to legal hits, Bettman didn't see any correlation between that increase and the increase in suspensions for illegal ones.

He considers much of the physical play to be normal for a first round and already notices teams settling down. Still, penalty minutes have been up so far from past years.

The league announced later Friday that Shanahan would announce his ruling on Torres on Saturday, a decision sure to be dissected, too.

"I have confidence in the people that are doing it, even though they're under intense scrutiny and criticism from both sides," Bettman said. "For everybody who says it's too much, there are people who say it's too little. For everybody who doesn't like a particular judgment, they say they're being inconsistent."

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Follow Rachel Cohen at https://twitter.com/rachelcohenap

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