Neal suspended five games. Will Shanahan double that for Thornton?

Ken Campbell
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brendan Shanahan has a busy week, what with the board of governors and dealing with all of the weekend’s stupidity and all, but he definitely got off to a good start giving James Neal a five-game suspension for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head last Saturday.

That’s because Shanahan, the NHL’s director of player safety, obviously wasn’t interested in buying any swampland in Florida from Neal. The player’s heartfelt plea that he had no intent was, quite obviously judging by Shanahan’s ruling, interpreted as a bunch of horse manure.

“I’m not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that,” Neal said after the Boston-Pittsburgh game that also produced what will surely be an enormous suspension for Shawn Thornton of the Bruins.

The only problem with Neal’s line of thinking is that in the video explaining the suspension, Shanahan correctly points out that just before Neal hit Marchand in the head with his knee, he looked directly down at Marchand, then turned his skate and lifted his head to look innocent only after making contact.

“This is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player,” Shanahan explains in the suspension video. “While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skate and extends his left leg, ensuring contact is made with Marchand’s head.”

It’s actually refreshing to see Shanahan take a stance against a player who is clearly trying to bend the truth to avoid a suspension. And by doing so, Shanahan made a clear statement that Neal’s play was not simply careless or reckless or a product of him being negligent. What Shanahan said with the suspension is he believes Neal went out of his way to try to injure Marchand and there was nothing accidental about it.

So bravo to Shanahan for coming down with a five-game ban, despite the fact Marchand was not hurt on the play and Neal is not a frequent offender (Neal was fined in 2011 for a high-sticking violation on P.K. Subban and suspended one game in the 2012 playoffs for a hit on Claude Giroux). It’s these kinds of rulings that will make players think twice before accidentally-on-purpose trying to hurt guys in the future. Neal’s logic is the same kind of malarkey a lot of guys use when they try to claim that they were just finishing their checks, when in reality they were more intent on finishing the other guy’s career.

Which brings us to the next item on Shanahan’s docket, a phone hearing with Dion Phaneuf for his blatant head shot/board slam to Kevan Miller of the Boston Bruins on Sunday night. No doubt Phaneuf will plead  he was simply rubbing out his man and finishing his check, but in reality, Phaneuf had to be clearly aware  Miller was in a vulnerable position. Like Neal, he had time to assess the situation, yet chose to drill Miller with a significant amount of force.

And while we’re at it with suspensions, how about having the two veteran referees, Tim Peel and Dennis LaRue, sit and cool their heels for a couple of games? Watch the Phaneuf hit and you’ll notice that part of the reason he made contact with Miller’s head is that Miller is in the early stages of crumpling to the ice after receiving a two-handed slash from David Clarkson. You know Clarkson, that guy who was brought in at enormous cost and term to provide all that veteran leadership. How those two offenses happened within inches of the focal point of the play and went uncalled truly boggles the mind. But the quality and consistency of refereeing in the NHL is a rant for another day.

The guessing here is Phaneuf will likely get a game or two, but the reality is that from these eyes, what he did to Miller is every bit as serious and egregious as what Neal did to Marchand.

Of course the one we’re all waiting for is the Thornton sentence, the over-under for which is 10 games. And once again, Shanahan will have to wade through all the rhetoric about what an honest player Thornton is, how he never meant to hurt Orpik, even while he was driving his fist into Orpik’s head as Orpik lay on the ice.

And since Zac Rinaldo does not have a hearing scheduled for his unprovoked attack on Antoine Roussel and the Flyers are playing the Ottawa Senators tonight, we can only assume the league doesn’t believe Rinaldo’s actions merit any supplementary discipline. Or perhaps the league simply believes it is penalizing the Flyers more by having him in the lineup than by suspending him.

The league clearly could have taken the Rinaldo incident and held it up as a clear example of intent to injure. After all, Rinaldo wisely used his four seconds of ice time that game to chase Roussel down and administer a one-sided pummeling. We’re guessing that Rinaldo didn’t do that with the intention of holding Roussel down and tickling him to death.

It’s disappointing the league didn’t see Rinaldo’s attack for what it really was. Particularly since the Neal suspension proved Shanahan has a capacity for cutting through the garbage.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.