Taylor Hall leads the Oilers with 41 points in 37 games as the team tries to chase down a playoff spot. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
On Wednesday night in Edmonton, a frustrated Oilers left winger Taylor Hall responded to Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek holding his stick by taking his own stick from over his head, Paul Bunyan-style, and two-handing Michalek across the back of his calves.
You can see it here:
The infraction didn’t receive even a minor penalty because either referees Francois Charron and Steve Kozari felt it didn’t warrant one (shocking) or because they didn’t see it (more understandable since neither was close enough to the play to be seen on camera). As Thursday progressed, I kept waiting for a report from the NHL that Hall would be subject to a hearing and subsequent supplemental discipline.
But not a peep from the NHL’s head office or Director of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan. No hearing, no suspension, not even a fine. Nothing. Now you can bet that Shanahan will have an informal chat with Hall about that kind of behavior, but Hall will play Saturday night against the Calgary Flames with no further blemishes to either his rap sheet or his wallet.
Even Hall expressed surprise after the game that he wasn’t penalized on the play. For the referees to miss something so blatantly violent is one thing. For the league to have the luxury of watching the same play multiple times the next day and still feel it didn’t warrant anything further boggles the mind.
Had the NHL chosen to, it could have fined Hall as little as $2,660.50, which represents one-half of one day’s pay and is the maximum Hall could have been fined as a repeat offender. The maximum fine is either $15,000 or half a day’s pay, whichever is the lesser amount. In addition to the $9,729.72 Hall forfeited when he was suspended two games for his knee-on-knee hit to Cal Clutterbuck, Hall would have at least been almost $12,400 lighter in the wallet for his misdeeds this season.
Hall’s status as a repeat offender from the Clutterbuck incident was not, and should not have been, taken into account in the decision whether or not to impose supplemental discipline for Hall’s chop on Michalek. That’s because the NHL’s discipline system acts much like a court of law. Prior records are not taken into account in determining the degree of guilt. They are only considered during sentencing.
But at the very least a fine of just over $2,500 for an act so egregious isn’t too much to ask, is it? Personally, a major penalty, game misconduct and a couple of games cooling his heels would have been a more appropriate sentence for Hall, but by not even holding a hearing the NHL is basically saying that Hall did nothing terribly wrong. And that sends the wrong message to every player on the ice.
No doubt the league would have liked to have seen Hall receive at least a two-minute minor for slashing on the play. All right then, so now we’ve set the standard. An over-the-head stick swing to the back of a guy’s legs on a play in which the aggrieved party is not injured is worth nothing more than a two-minute penalty.
Sheesh. No wonder players take the law into their own hands sometimes. If you’ll notice, just three minutes after that incident, Martin Hanzal of the Coyotes was penalized for boarding after hitting Hall from behind. Coincidence? We think not.
(Oh yeah, and for all you fighting enthusiasts out there, isn’t fighting supposed to be the thing that deters this kind of vicious stick work from happening in the first place? Just wondering.)
So, let’s recap then. You have an incident that, in a worst-case scenario, could have injured one of Phoenix’s top-four defensemen during the stretch run to the playoffs and it doesn’t get penalized. Then you have an incident three minutes later where, in an act of revenge, the offender gets hit from behind into the boards, creating another situation that could have resulted in a serious injury.
Had Hall been kicked out of the game, he wouldn’t have been around to be hit that way, everyone would have been satisfied and Hall would have been subject to a short suspension or a fine. Instead, players have just been told that an axe-like stick swing to the back of a guy’s legs is going to be punished by nothing more than a minor penalty, provided the guy being hit is able to get up and shake it off.
Shanahan is a reasonable person. He prefers to deal with on-ice violence by educating players instead of making grand gestures. Perhaps it will work and Hall will learn his lesson after a verbal dressing down. But a much more constructive and definitive message would have been sent to everyone in the league if Hall had been dealt with more harshly.
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.