NHL sends message on hits to head, but when will players get it?

A Ducks team trainer assists left wing Dustin Penner after he was briefly knocked unconscious on a hit by Dallas Stars forward Ryan Garbutt during Sunday's game.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The NHL’s Wheel of Justice got several vigorous spins Monday, all dealing with infractions that caused head injuries.

Colorado forward Cody McLeod was suspended five games for a boarding incident against Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner got two games for a hit to the head of Carolina forward Nathan Gerbe, and Dallas winger Ryan Garbutt was invited to an in-person interview regarding his ugly hit Sunday on Ducks winger Dustin Penner.

The face-to-face mandate means Garbutt’s suspension could exceed five games. Penner, who was briefly knocked unconscious, underwent tests Monday required by the NHL’s concussion protocol. He was alert enough to joust with detractors on Twitter but didn’t accompany the Ducks to Toronto, where they’ll start an eight-game trip Tuesday.


In addition, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was scheduled Monday to hear Buffalo enforcer Patrick Kaleta’s appeal of a 10-game suspension for a hit Kaleta delivered to the head of Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson.

All of this follows the five-game suspension St. Louis forward Maxim Lapierre got last week for needlessly slamming San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle into the boards. Boyle suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely.

The NHL’s crackdown on blows to the head has been pronounced, and that’s commendable. But when will players respect each other enough to develop restraint in situations when they can pull back without hurting their teams?

Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president for player safety, does the hockey world a great service by narrating videos that analyze each infraction. His explanation of the McLeod suspension was a classic example: Shanahan says Player Safety executives considered Kronwall might have left himself vulnerable along the boards but added, “We’re convinced that McLeod has time to avoid or minimize checking Kronwall from behind,” and points out McLeod changed his path “and is responsible for the violent collision that results.”

There’s a difference between finishing your check and putting an opponent in danger when it’s possible to ease up or wrap him up in a bearhug.

Shanahan made the right calls Monday. And Garbutt, who dashed directly out of the penalty box to hit Penner with a shoulder-to-jaw blow, should be suspended five games. Kaleta, fined or suspended on six previous occasions, should sit all 10 games. One more head shot and he should sit 25 games. But it shouldn’t have to come to that for him or anyone else.

Ducks’ Selanne still has it

After Teemu Selanne was scoreless and minus-one defensively in each of his first two games, it was reasonable to wonder whether the Finnish winger could still play at a high level or whether he would be reduced to the role of power-play specialist.

Selanne, 43, has gotten his legs going the last few games and it shows. He has scored goals in three straight games and has recorded points in five straight, and in each game he was even or plus defensively.

Team captain Ryan Getzlaf said he never feared Selanne had lost his scoring touch. “He’s got that self-recognition that when things aren’t going exactly the way he wants them to, he knows he’s got to change something,” Getzlaf said. “He’s definitely not a guy that I need to talk to.”

Selanne’s quick shot is still there and his assurance has been restored. After all these years and 678 goals, even he needs reassurance.

“When I was younger I was so hungry to get another one right away. But now I’m a little bit, I guess, more mellow,” he said. “It’s confidence. It’s a great feeling when the puck is following you…. There’s nothing like scoring.”

Coach Bruce Boudreau, who still plans to give Selanne occasional games off, saw Selanne thrive while getting more power-play time and scoring chances last Friday. That foreshadowed Selanne’s power-play goal Sunday against Dallas. “I think being on the first power play unit gives him a little jump because he’s been so used to that his whole life,” Boudreau said.

But Boudreau must balance deference toward Selanne against the need to win. Those two imperatives might not always mesh, though they do now.

“It’s a tough line and I think about it constantly,” Boudreau said. “But he deserves so much respect for what he’s done. He’s playing well and it makes life easier for me when he’s playing well.”

Slap shots

Goalie Martin Biron announced his retirement Sunday. Regarded as a good team player, he had been waived and assigned to the minor leagues by the New York Rangers after a shaky start. For his 16-year career he was 230-191-25 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .910 save percentage….Defenseman Roman Hamrlik announced his retirement Monday. A member of the Czech team that won gold at the 1998 Olympics, he was a three-time all-star and played 1,395 games for seven teams.

Hall of Fame defenseman Allan Stanley, who won four Stanley Cup championships with the Toronto Maple Leafs, died in Canada last week at 87 of undisclosed causes. Despite being nicknamed “Snowshoes” for his plodding skating, he played 1,244 games over 21 seasons.