It didn't take long for a thorny controversy to erupt in the NHL playoffs. In fact, P.K. Subban's slash on Mark Stone bright to light a number of hot-button, post-season issues. While we don't want to see anyone hurt, the emotion it evoked was special.
One small whack in the playoffs, one giant gouge for playoff-kind.
P.K. Subban’s tomahawk to Mark Stone’s wrist ignited an inferno of what is so controversial and so awesome about the NHL playoffs. It was a microcosm of a hockey fan’s favorite two months of the season, all captured in a few moments of the second period of the first game of Round 1.
The hot spots:
1. Uneven discipline. At least two TV commentators and 22,000 people on social media said Subban’s slash didn’t warrant a match penalty, not in an NHL playoff game. So maybe in Game 47 of the regular season?
It’s an illogical position. While nobody wants to see the referees decide the outcome of a game, that’s precisely what they do when they call fouls inconsistently or let things go. A hook, hold, trip or slash should be called the same way late in the third period and overtime as it is in the first. It’s the way every other sport operates.
Besides, in the long run, employing the former mindset hurts better teams. It’s an equalizer for the less skilled, slower clubs.
Supplementary discipline should be administered likewise. In this instance, Subban didn't receive a suspension, but that shouldn’t be because it was the post-season. In the past, players have had sentences commuted on the basis that even application from regular to post season is too harsh. That is, a four-game regular season suspension, for example, should only be two in the playoffs.
Again, this is illogical. What if, in this instance, Stone had suffered a broken wrist? (Editor's Note: It was learned later in the day Stone did indeed incur a microfracture and his status is doubtful). He’d be missing the same number of games in the post-season as the regular season. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime (just ask Baretta)…segue…
2. Extent of injury should matter. We also heard commentators and fans reiterate Wednesday night that the severity of the wound suffered shouldn’t impact the length of penalty, that it should be about intent. Wrong.
Think about what happens in society. If Dude A punches Dude B in the face and gives Dude B a black eye, Dude A might be charged with a misdemeanor or assault. If Dude A delivers the same punch and Dude B slips, cracks his head on the pavement and perishes, suddenly Dude A is charged with manslaughter. Or recklessness causing death. You get the point. The pain and suffering in the eyes of the law always matters.
And it should in the NHL, too. And if fact does. Once the league determines whether an offense is suspendible, the extent of injury is taken into account by Stephane Quintal and associates. He has to because it's written into the CBA.
3. Embellishment. Stone was initially accused by some of milking his pain. Of acting. It’s a behavior that happens every spring, and seems to be increasing in recent years. Some players will do whatever is necessary to gain an edge.
My gut reaction when seeing the play live was that Stone wasn’t faking; the way he immediately clutched his arm and skated directly off the ice would have taken far too much premeditation. His sporadic presence thereafter and virtual non-existence in the third period would seem to support that notion.
Diving or faking is a slippery slope. It can be very difficult to detect and/or prove. That said, none of us wants to see dishonorable conduct impacting big games. It’s a tough nut to crack.
Perhaps, in addition to what the league is already trying by outing the thespians, they should have all players sign a code of conduct that includes an embellishment provision. That way, an unwritten code becomes a written one, providing another level of accountability.
4. Quality of officiating. Like the spring thaw, claims of bad refereeing and conspiracy theories are inevitable at this time of year. Get. Over. It.
Yup, the men in stripes will miss calls, or get some things wrong, but they will mostly be right.
Last night, Subban took things out of the referees' hands by taking matters into his. It was an ill-advised, though perhaps non-malicious, chop to the hands of one of the best players in the NHL the second half of the season. We can’t know that he was targeting Stone or intending to hurt him, but what we do know is what we observed: he slid his hands up his stick and sliced downwards on Stone’s wrist.
It was an unnecessary act, somewhere between careless and reckless. The referee called it by the book. Subban needs to man up in that situation, be a leader and acknowledge he made a mistake. It’s not only the officials who err occasionally.
So the playoffs are off to a rough start, huh? Hardly. The play ratcheted up what was already an intense game and set the stage for even more dramatics: the Habs won without the potential Norris Trophy winner, not to mention a top gun in Max Pacioretty. The Bell Centre was on fire, inflamed by the controversy. Bad blood was palpable.
It was awesome.