PHILADELPHIA -- A few weeks ago, Brendan Shanahan talked about being in the changing-behavior business, not the punishment business.
But since that first, emotional round of the playoffs, things have settled down considerably. And in the moments when players have stepped outside the lines, it has been encouraging to see the league’s response, especially when top players have been involved.
Oft-criticized head of discipline Brendan Shanahan suspended Rostislav Klesla, who is having an impactful playoff season for the Phoenix Coyotes, for boarding Matt Halischuk. In the first round, Backstrom, the Washington Capitals’ top center, was suspended for one game against the Boston Bruins.
And on Monday afternoon, Shanahan lowered the boom on the leading scorer in the playoffs, suspending Claude Giroux for one game for his shoulder hit to the head of New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus in Game 4 on Sunday night in Newark, N.J.
Critics will suggest Shanahan should have done the same to Alex Ovechkin after the Washington captain leaped into New York Rangers defenseman Daniel Girardi. We could have gone either way on that one, given Ovechkin’s history for reckless behavior on the ice. The difference is that Girardi saw Ovechkin coming and Girardi wasn’t injured on the play, so we weren’t entirely surprised that there was no supplemental discipline in that instance.
Now, these moments do not explain the decision not to suspend Weber for smashing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass, but what's done (or not done) is done and the Giroux suspension is significant on a number of fronts.
Giroux has no history of being fined or suspended and Zubrus was not injured on the play. In fact, Zubrus returned and scored an empty-net goal to ice a 4-2 win for the Devils.
Those two factors, coupled with the fact the Flyers trail the Devils 3-1 in the series with a potentially deciding game set for Tuesday in Philadelphia might have been enough to earn Giroux a fine and/or a verbal warning.
Indeed, would anyone have been surprised if that’s how this shook out?
Instead, Shanahan noted in his video rationale for the suspension that Giroux was agitated during the moments leading up to the hit on Zubrus. Giroux was angry that officials had missed a call on New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur playing the puck outside the trapezoid. He turned and chirped at them as he made his way back down the ice. Then, Giroux took a whack at Zubrus with his stick and then got him on the chin with his shoulder after the puck had been sent deep in the Flyers' zone.
You can argue whether all blows to the head should be subject to penalty or suspension, but certainly players who cannot control their emotions, who lash out in anger, should be subject to punitive action by the league.
Some of the dangerous hits are the result of ignorance or the speed of the game or other factors, but dangerous hits that are borne out of anger should be dealt with harshly.
Giroux wasn’t necessarily looking to take out Zubrus, but he was clearly looking to vent his anger somewhere, on someone. Shanahan called the hit “late” and “reckless,” and those factors should always be a recipe for suspension.
Giroux certainly seemed contrite when he met with reporters at the team’s practice facility before the ruling was announced Monday.
He said he spoke with league officials for 15 to 20 minutes and tried to explain he wasn’t trying to target Zubrus' head. He also said he would accept whatever the punishment the league mandated.
Some will suggest it's one game, big deal.
On Tuesday night, Giroux will have to sit in the press box at Wells Fargo Center while his team faces elimination. He is the team’s best offensive player, and if the Flyers lose, it will at least in part be on his shoulders. As it should be.
One can only imagine how long Giroux’s summer will be if the Flyers cannot pull out a win without him in the lineup Tuesday.
One imagines it is the kind of haunting moment that will be a catalyst to better behavior down the road.
A similar dynamic existed in the first round, when a frustrated James Neal of Pittsburgh targeted a couple of Flyers, including Giroux, during an embarrassing loss in Philadelphia. Neal was suspended for a potential elimination game for his actions.
And maybe that’s what this is all about: changing behavior one player, one hit at a time.