Violent NHL playoffs have fans, pundits crying foul
It's only the first round of the NHL playoffs, but fans and pundits are already deeply divided over a dramatic uptick in on-ice violence that many put at the feet of one man: league disciplinary czar Brendan Shanahan.
While each series has seen its share of fights and questionable hits, it's the battle of Pennsylvania that is getting most of the headlines (and big ratings).
The violence in Sunday's tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers had the Twitterverse exploding in disgust, with fans criticizing officials for losing control of the game and dismissing the NHL as a "bush league" enterprise.
Even oft-concussed Penguins star Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves with Flyers star Claude Giroux.
On Monday, the NHL suspended Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams for one game for instigating a fight in the last five minutes of the game, and hit head coach Dan Bylsma with a US$10,000 fine.
That Sunday's game got so out of control had many calling out Shanahan for failing to set a zero-tolerance tone for unnecessary violence in the playoffs.
After starting his tenure a year ago with a hard position on head shots, Shanahan has scaled back his punishments to the point that he is largely being blamed for giving players the sense they have free rein to play as they wish, never mind the consequences.
The bar appears to have been set after the first game of the series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators. In that game, Nashville's Shea Weber was tussling with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg along the boards when Weber grabbed Zetterberg's head and smashed it into the glass.
Shanahan fined Weber $2,500, and explained his decision not to suspend Weber by pointing out that Zetterberg was not hurt.
Shanahan told the Globe and Mail that rather than letting Weber off easy, the fine serves as a warning that he now has a record that will follow him through the rest of the playoffs.
"What I said to Weber is that this doesn't end here with just a fine," Shanahan told the Globe.
Shanahan did suspend Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers for his elbow to the head of Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2 of their series. Alfredsson confirmed he suffered a concussion and did not play in Game 3.
Fans and sportswriters have been less-than-impressed with the violence.
On Sunday, New York Times hockey writer Chris Botta tweeted: "The #NHL Department of Player Safety has lost its way. ‘It's a hard job' is a cop-out. Inexplicable decision-making."
On Monday, hockey fan @suebailey tweeted: "This Philly-Pittsburgh game has jumped the tracks."
On Tuesday, a fan tweeting as @iHumble said; "Anybody remember when we didn't see many fights once the playoffs started? Not this season. Whoa. Lol."
But the violence is obviously appealing to many fans, a fact the league is sure to be taking note of.
On Monday, TSN said its playoff ratings are up 56 per cent to date over last year, and its average viewership for the Penguins-Flyers series is 1.4 million. South of the border, Sunday's Penguins-Flyers game had a 2.3 overnight rating, a jump of 77 per cent compared to an afternoon playoff game a year ago.