Dan Carcillo punished for name, not deed

CHICAGO -- Arguments can be made for and against the two-game suspension of Chicago Blackhawks forward Dan Carcillo for hitting Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen into the boards on Friday night.

The Hawks and Carcillo were surprised he has to sit out two games. But almost every player is surprised when he’s suspended, and Carcillo should be used to it. It’s his fifth career suspension.

Was Pitkanen falling down anyway, as Joel Quenneville asserted before Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets? Did Carcillo take advantage of the vulnerable defenseman as the Hurricanes most certainly claimed? Those are judgement arguments online message boards will banter around until the next controversial hit.

The bigger question the league needs to address is the use of “prior offenses” in determining punishment. It’s starting to get silly.

It’s as if a player -- and this seems to apply to Carcillo -- can’t change his reputation once it’s established. Carcillo has been a near-model citizen in the early going this season, admittedly trying to “play hockey” and not be a menace on the ice. If punishments should fit the crime, as common sense dictates, then whether it’s a first offense or a 10th, maybe the punishment should be the same.

A light suspension for an extremely dangerous hit just because the player is a first time offender simply doesn’t seem fair if a less dangerous check -- like Carcillo’s on Pitkanen -- gets as much, if not more, scrutiny. It means every player gets a near free-pass the first time he hits illegally. In that case, he may as well get his money’s worth.

Additionally, the league looks really silly on the following point, explained by Rob Blake of the player safety department:

“Although we agree with Carcillo’s assertion and have factored in he is a physical player who has never faced supplemental discipline for an illegal body check in the past, we still can’t ignore the fact that he has been fined and suspended multiple times in his NHL career,” Blake said.

That makes no sense.

Carcillo is punished worse because he’s yelled at referees in the past? That was the reason for his latest suspension to begin the year. How does that factor into a first-time illegal check where no penalty was called and the player didn’t miss a shift due to an injury from the hit.

Alex Ovechkin hit Brian Campbell a couple of seasons ago much worse in a similar manner. Campbell was turning away from the puck and had finished the play when Ovechkin extended his arms shoving Campbell into the end boards while causing injury. Carcillo also extended his arms but while both players were slowing up and Pitkanen had the puck. Ovechkin got the same two games Carcillo did.

Like Blake indicated, Carcillo got a harsher sentence due to his history even though that history does not include dirty hits.

The lawyer in you might be thinking that this is how it works in the real world. A second offense earns a harsher punishment than a first offense of the same nature. But that doesn’t fly here. There is plenty of gray area when it comes to hits -- Carcillo’s check might even apply considering the non-call on the ice. There are no accidental thefts in real life. So again, if Carcillo is trying to clean up his act -- at least a little -- and something in that gray area occurs he’s going to get no benefit of the doubt.

Bottom line: each hit should be judged in and of itself. Two illegal hits of the same exact variety should receive the same punishment. Punishment is still being handed out, hence a deterrent is still at play. Since the league emphasized Carcillo’s history in determining his suspension they also admitted the hit itself wasn’t all that bad. If it was so blatant, it would have been called a penalty. If it was so dangerous, they would have suspended him for longer. If not for his prior offenses, which have nothing to do with anything related to this incident, Carcillo would be playing.

Something doesn’t seem right.