Six days after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stood at a podium and said he wanted to see harsher suspensions for "certain conduct we want out of the game," Mike Murphy unloaded on Vancouver defenceman Aaron Rome.
The NHL's Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations gave Rome four games for the late hit that kayoed Nathan Horton with a concussion. It punishes the defenceman in particular, and the Canucks in general, but the aftershocks will be felt around the league.
"4 game suspension for rome, wow, I agree it was late, but didn't think intent to injure was there," Coyotes forward Kyle Turris wrote on his Twitter feed.
"I think 2 would have been enough," tweeted the Ducks' Bobby Ryan. "But I do understand 4. Sets a precedent and makes an example of someone. But it's a fast game."
Let's take the Horton hit out of the discussion for a moment.
In a lot of ways, Rome should be held up as a role model for young players trying to make it to the big leagues. The 104th pick in the 2002 draft, the team that took him, the Los Angeles Kings, never signed him. Rome played all of 26 NHL games in the seven years after his selection.
But he refused to give up, finding a coach, Alain Vigneault, who believed in him and found a spot for Rome on the Vancouver blue-line. People are joking about how he's no real loss, but that's wrong. When Dan Hamhuis went down, Vigneault turned to Rome as Kevin Bieksa's partner.
Two weeks ago, I asked Rome when he finally believed he was going to make it.
"Last year (2009-10), at training camp, I felt I made a great impression," he said. "But you never know."
'Guys play all their lives to get [here]'
The league is full of guys like him. Guys who would do anything to keep their jobs, guys who know that if they don't play hard, they're gone. Playing in the NHL is a tremendous honour and privilege. Playing for the Stanley Cup? Well, as Murphy said, "Guys play all their lives to get to this series on both teams, and you might never get back."
But, how often do you hear some variation of this line: "If I don't finish my check, I'll be out of the league."
Jamie McGinn said something like that, too.
McGinn's played 143 games for the Sharks over the past three seasons and is what coaches call "an energy player." He may only see eight-to-10 minutes a night and is expected to go hard, create havoc and finish his checks.
Just like he did two weeks ago with Aaron Rome.
Rome (and the Canucks), didn't like McGinn's hit. Teammates pointed out how Rome put himself right up against the glass, which is what you are supposed to do to eliminate the possibility of falling hard into the boards. Still, McGinn (who came from about 45 feet away) blasted him right between the shoulders and delivered a concussion.
There is going to be a lot of debate today about whether or not this is the right time to set a new standard, whether or not the severity of an injury should matter, whether or not one game sat out in a Stanley Cup Final is worth five games or 50,000 games.
But, the fact is, that the NHL has a concussion problem. A serious one. Some of those concussions cannot be prevented, because hockey should be a tough game with hard hits in a confined space played at great speed. But some of them can. Like the one Nathan Horton received in Game 3.
One thing Mike Murphy said during his availability really stood out to me: "I have a lot of compassion for what (Rome) said (in the hearing) ... I did take it to heart. But I don't think it changed my mind a whole lot."
Added Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference: "A hit like that doesn't mean the guy is a bad guy or anything."
Absolutely true. But Murphy's position is the way it should be. How many of these players reach out and apologize to the guys they hit? It's a great gesture, but it's little consolation to someone who has to be carried out on a stretcher and can't play the rest of the series.
Earlier this season, an NHL coach said that if you really wanted to change the mentality, you had to have harsh suspensions.
"The players adapt," he said. "You've got to hit the first guy ... 20 games. I don't care if it was an accident. If he hits the head, he gets 20 games. The next guy gets 10. You will see a change."
This wasn't a 20-game suspension, but to Rome, it certainly feels that way. It's tough to put any faith in the NHL's system of supplementary discipline, but, if this is the new direction, it's the right one.
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