Agent Walsh blasts NHL for Bouchard suspension
Calls handling of hick-sticking incident a 'farce for the league'
First, Don Cherry laid into NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan on his disciplinary actions, then general managers and now agents are speaking out.
Allan Walsh of Octagon Athlete Representation on Sunday responded to the suspension handed to his client, Minnesota Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who will sit two games without pay for high sticking Columbus’ Matt Calvert in the face on Saturday night.
"Pierre-Marc Bouchard is one of the most sportsmanlike and gentlemanly players in the game today," Walsh said in an email to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada. "In a career spanning nine NHL seasons, he’s acquired a grand total of two major penalties.
"What message is Brendan Shanahan sending with this unwarranted suspension? All perennial Lady Byng [most gentlemanly player] candidates should now be on notice that when an opponent high sticks himself in the mouth, he can expect a minimum suspension of two regular-season NHL games.
"This result is a shameful farce for the league."
With 66 seconds left in the second period Saturday, Bouchard hit Calvert in the face with his stick, injuring the Blue Jackets left-winger.
Bouchard was assessed a double-minor for high sticking.
"On the play in question … even the two on-ice officials did not deem Pierre-Marc’s actions worthy of a major penalty," Walsh said.
"The notion that Pierre-Marc Bouchard intentionally swung his stick into the face of an opponent is patently absurd. He's just not that kind of a player."
'It's an inherent conflict of interest for an employee of the NHL to be conducting these hearings and imposing suspensions on players.'— NHL player agent Allan Walsh on Brendan Shanahan
Walsh has a point. Bouchard, 27, entered this season with only 152 penalty minutes through his first 485 NHL regular-season games. He has never surpassed 34 minutes in penalties in any of his eight seasons.
"All in all, these twenty minute disciplinary hearings are nothing more than kangaroo courts," Walsh, a certified NHL agent since 1996, said. "More league effort goes into writing scripts and producing slick videos than in getting to the real facts of what occurred on the ice.
"It's an inherent conflict of interest for an employee of the NHL to be conducting these hearings and imposing suspensions on players. It's time for a neutral third party not associated with the league or the players to take over supplementary discipline as this system clearly does not work."
On Thursday's Coach's Corner segment on HNIC, Shanahan was a target of Don Cherry, who said the former NHL forward set a precedent with a 10-game suspension (five pre-season, five regular-season games) to Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Jody Shelley.
In that Sept. 21 game, Toronto’s Darryl Boyce made a play for the puck behind the Flyers net and was driven into the boards from behind by Shelley, breaking his nose.
"He gives him ten games. Ten games," said Cherry of Shanahan. "You know how many shifts Boyce missed? He only lost two shifts."
On Saturday night, a kinder, gentler Cherry pointed out Shanahan simply set the bar too high.
Also Saturday, HNIC Hotstove panelist Eric Francis revealed that after speaking with nearly one-third of the 30 NHL GMs, there's a small group that is not pleased with the length of the banishments.
Shanahan, who was given a mandate to deliver stiffer penalties for those players targeting the head, has dished out 31 games in suspensions, totalling $701,682.56 US in salary.
"I spoke to almost a third of the general managers today and I was a little bit surprised to find out that there is a group of them that has gone to [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman and [deputy commissioner] Bill Daly and made it very clear that they are very unhappy with the way that Brendan Shanahan has handled [the length] of the suspensions," Francis said.
The [suspensions] are pretty harsh and a lot of people agree with that — fans and media are definitely on board — but there’s a group of GMs that have gone and complained. They wanted the bar set high — they made that clear in their agenda in the summer. However, they didn’t want it 'doubled and tripled' in the words of one general manager who really teed off on Brendan today."
While the GMs believe the penalties will eliminate headshots, Francis said, they also fear it will get rid of the hitting, something that’s already affecting the players.
"I spent the whole week talking to as many players as I could and almost all of them agree that it’s changed the way they play the game. It’s a feeling-out process, there’s some adjustments being made, but these are the growing pains that everybody knew the NHL would have to go through when they were getting tougher on headshots."
- In an earlier version of this story it was reported that nearly one third of the NHL GMs were not pleased with the length of the suspensions handed out by Brendan Shanahan. In fact, it was only a small group of GMs.Oct 10, 2011 2:47 PM ET
With files from Tony Care, CBC Sports