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Let's Get Legal: How Much Does Intent Matter?

Scott Nichol is held back from going after Brent Burns in Game 3.
Scott Nichol is held back from going after Brent Burns in Game 3.

A lot bothers me about how NHL Disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan is doing his job. Most of that is being covered all over the blogosphere using terms like consistency, star power and game importance. Who you are and the magnitude of the upcoming games your team will play seems to impact the consistency of the punishment far too much.

If you're a star player who crosses the line and it's the playoffs, you'll get far less punishment than a marginal player who crosses the line in the regular season.

And while that is flawed logic, it's being applied by a man who's resume includes lots of NHL games but very few days in law school. Why are we surprised that he's screwing it up? I didn't hear it first hand, but Gord Stelick was on my Sirius radio this week saying that Shanahan was on a New York radio sports show and was seemingly convinced by the hosts to question his own judgement and to consider reversing his own already-applied sentence to Carl Hagelin if Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson was able to return from injury without missing a game.

And there, in my opinion, is the worst part of Shanahan's distorted and broken value system for how many games a player is suspended. He leans far too much on whether the player was injured or not. This is why the Phoenix Coyotes pretended that goalie Mike Smith was more injured than he was - they wanted Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw to be suspended for longer than if Smith wasn't hurt. This is also why before the game last night was even over the word was out that Shanahan would have a hearing with Raffi Torres for destroying Marian Hossa with an illegal hit. Everyone saw Hossa go out on a stretcher - that injury told Shanahan that he needed to suspend Torres.

That reasoning is just wrong. The fact of the matter is that if the offender INTENDS to hurt someone, it's just as bad as if he ACTUALLY hurts someone.

In the Blues-Sharks series so far, there has not been one play reviewed nor one player suspended. Is this because no one was injured? In Shanahan's world, probably so. Brent Burns' forearm shiver on the head of Scott Nichol to me stands out as the worst of the offenses, mainly because it had absolutely nothing to do with the play. Not only were the two players not battling at all, Nichol wasn't even facing Burns when he applied a blow to the head that was clearly intended to hurt him and knock him out of the game (ignore the homer Shark call of "threw a right hand"). Here's the video (thanks, "Fred Murtz"):

From the same game, T.J. Galiardi takes an obvious run at Andy McDonald, who he knows has had concussion issues (based on his post-game comments referencing McDonald's tinted visor), and commits several suspendable actions as he cracks' McDonald's helmet in the process:

He leaves his feet and attacks the head. There used to be a great breakdown video up that I reTweeted this week, but you have to ask this guy why he took it down for some reason. Suffice to say, it was just like Shanahan's videos and showed clearly the intent to injure.

Finally, to be semi-objective, the Blues' Andy McDonald committed an "attempt to injure" act of his own, slew-footing Logan Couture later in the game. Slew-footing a guy, when executed properly, can severely hurt a player since they usually whip straight onto their back and can hit their head on the ice.

This version isn't exactly a perfect example of a slew-foot as Couture goes down on his side, but again, the point is intent.

My problem with Shanahan's decision on whether or not to review a play seems to depend on the result of the play, not the intent of the play. None of the three plays discussed above were even officially reviewed by the league and none of the players were asked to explain their actions, let alone suffer any consequences.

In the cases of Burns' elbow and McDonald's slew-foot, neither were "hockey plays". In the course of play, things can happen. It's a quick game played by large, speedy men going as fast as possible. I have an easier time excusing a guy who commits to a hit and then has the situation in front of him change in a fraction of a second, making his hit suddenly look worse than intended than I do a guy who throws a dirty shot that has nothing to do with the gameplay.

Neither McDonald nor Burns hurt the targets of their aggression. Does that mean they should be given a pass? What about Galiardi's hit, one I'm more willing to let slide, considering he at least tried to hit a guy who had the puck? Galiardi's probably had the most potential to do real harm to someone, even if it was the cleanest of the three plays here.

I think the bottom line for Shanahan, in his flawed, non-legal mind, is that if the guy didn't get hurt, it really isn't as bad of an infraction. I could not disagree more. I, like Shanahan, am no lawyer, so I'll ask those of you who are to weigh in here, but if someone points a gun at my face and pulls the trigger, should he be punished more or less if he kills me with a headshot or if he misses me altogether? Should he go unpunished if he intended to kill me and his aim sucks and he blew a hole in my wall instead? He intended to kill me, he just missed.

I feel like Shanahan's biggest problem is that if a target skates away from an intent-to-injure action, he considers that something that should not be reviewed. And that's his biggest mistake.