Erskine’s Suspension Not Enough

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Ever since former NHL star Brendan Shanahan has become the head of the Department of Player Safety, there has been a crackdown on vicious hits and dirty plays in the league. Shanahan’s player safety videos, although sometimes funny and a bit ridiculous, clearly illustrate the problem at hand as well as give a distinct reason for the suspension of the player who committed the act.

Despite Shanahan’s “success” at keeping the game of hockey safe, there are many people, myself included, who felt that last year Shanahan’s suspensions went a bit too far, particularly in the playoffs. Some of the hits and plays led to Shanahan issuing multiple-game suspensions simply did not seem as severe as some other hits which went unpunished.

One example of this occurred on Friday, Feb. 1, when the Philadelphia Flyers took on the Washington Capitals in Washington. Capitals’ defenseman John Erskine was going after a puck near the boards in the offensive zone, as was Flyers’ forward Wayne Simmonds. Erskine saw Simmonds coming, and decided that it would be a good idea to stick his elbow straight out and hit Simmonds straight in the face. Simmonds went down hard and it was later discovered that he received a concussion and a few head and neck injuries as a result of the hit and will be out indefinitely.

What makes this play even more unbelievable is that there was no penalty called. The line judge and the referee had a clear view of both Erskine and Simmonds. Without looking at the replay, it was evident that Erskine’s elbow clearly rose and hit Simmonds directly in the face; most of the time if a referee sees a player go down like that at least roughing would be called, but the play continued on and Erskine was not penalized for the hit. I find this to be utterly ridiculous. There have been some questionable boarding calls this season and sometimes a player’s stick just has to merely touch another player on the hands for the referee to quickly throw up his hand for a slashing minor. I cannot understand how not one but two referees could look at this play and not give Erskine at least a two minute minor for roughing or elbowing; there was nothing clean about this play.

This is where Shanahan stepped in; once again making his usual suspension video, Shanahan broke down the hit and suspended Erskine three games, which will cost him $24,324 in salary. However, I think that Erskine got off fairly cleanly for what he did.

Shanahan clearly states in his video that the hit “is elbowing,” so already it was evident that the referees in the game blew the call. He then goes on to say that Erskine “looks up and clearly is aware of Simmond’s proximity before delivering the illegal hit,” but he “acknowledge[s] that there was no malicious intent . . . Erskine was reacting to getting beat [to the puck].”

I’m sorry but I cannot see how there was not malicious intent. Erskine is a first time offender and usually when a first time offender is suspended Shanahan takes the suspension a bit more lightly than he would if it was someone who constantly headhunts and throws his elbows up in people’s faces, but this is a different case. There was no call on the ice and Simmonds is out indefinitely as a result of the hit. Shanahan acknowledges that Erskine clearly looked up and saw Simmonds, but he didn’t try and slow down or put his body into the hit; Erskine clearly has no intent of hitting Simmonds with anything but his outstretched elbow in order to get the puck, and I feel that there needs to be something said about that. The fact that Erskine could have stopped himself from delivering the hit, that there is video evidence of him clearly seeing Simmonds beforehand and the fact that an injury occurred from the hit should warrant at least a five-game suspension, possibly more.

Usually I bash Shanahan for being too harsh with his suspensions, but this one was far too lenient. Regardless of whether Erskine was a repeat offender or not, the hit was clearly vicious and he had the opportunity to stop and he did not and for that he deserves a suspensions of at least five games.