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Head shots and situational justice, NHL-style

"When Cammalleri hit Havlat, there was a lot of risk to doing that. He took a two-minute penalty in a game where there could have been ramifications for doing that. But there are no ramifications when you're losing 4-1 with six seconds left."

Credit Colin Campbell for at least explaining the reasoning behind the judgments reached (and averted) by the league. I don't know if he spoke on his own initiative, or if someone in NHL public relations convinced his crew that it might be a good idea to communicate to fans why the NHL product, on which fans spend gobs of disposable income, unfolds the way it does. That's progress.

As recently noted at Puck Daddy, for a major league the NHL has been progressive in its online initiatives and may actually be getting better at understanding what fans want. (Yes, I realize that post also notes a content arrangement with SB Nation; no, I'm not being self-serving; yes, they might even use content from non-playoff team blogs; no I'm not anticipating they'll use any from here, particularly ones like this one. But, yes, I wouldn't mind them taking a suggestion or two about how to make me more likely to keep buying what they're selling.)

In that Puck Daddy post, Wysh notes that the NHL's "Situation Room" takes communication about goal reviews to a whole new level. This sort of full disclosure is exactly what the league needs to maintain credibility. Mistakes in judgment happen, this we know and accept. What I personally cannot accept is the pretense that disciplinary decisions exist in a vacuum unrelated to one another.

So when the league tells me the Flyers-Penguins game situation dictated why Daniel Carcillo's head punch deserved a suspension and Mike Cammalleri's did not, I won't agree -- but I appreciate actually knowing what the league was thinking. At least I can use this information to try and understand future decisions. That's progress from the typical NHL version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where you either know precisely why one player was suspended or you know why another player wasn't -- but you can never know both at the same time, because the standard has inevitably changed, and "we treat each incident as separate."

But About Those Head Shots...

But wait just a minute: These penalized offenses were deliberate, sneak-attack punches to the head. To the head. To...the...head. Hmmm ... now where did I hear somewhere that such infractions were something the league was taking very seriously?

Ah yes, that's it! HITS to the head. Apparently, if you make an overzealous body check and you accidentally get your limbs up too high, you're due a suspension. In the regular season. But if you do something at a faceoff that has no relation whatsoever to legal game play -- i.e. there are no "legal" punches to the head -- then any suspension depends on game situation and whether there were already in-game "ramifications." In the playoffs.

I realize that the value and importance of playoff games is much greater, and there is some amount of "everything's on the line" jungle rules to what happens that allows similar incidents to go without suspension during the playoffs. But the league has never spelled out exactly what that ratio of regular season-to-playoff game justice is. So we're left to guess and make inferences about why a non-star gets the boot during the playoffs and a team's top scorer is free of discipline because he already faced in-game "ramifications."

Apparently, Campbell is concerned about head shots of some variety (not on legal hits, though), while the players are even more concerned about head shots, period. Except, judging by the actions of Campbell and NHLPA members Carcillo and Cammalleri, none of them give a damn about all that if it happens in the playoffs.

Good to know.