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Inconsistent Pattern of Punishment Frustrating to NHL Players and Fans

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Last month, James Neal became the first Dallas Stars player to fall victim to the NHL's campaign to eliminate headshots from the game, even though the league saw a few worse hits to make better examples from, but decided to take a pass.

This week, the league had two more chances to make examples out of players the same way Neal was made an example of. To nobody's surprise but to the frustration of many, they decided to pass.

It motivated my good friend, Joe Yerdon, to do a little further investigation over his excellent hockey blog, Gross Misconduct Hockey. I do suggest you check him out on a daily basis, even though he's a Red Wings fan.

Videos of the hits in question come after the jump.

First, let's look at David Koci's hit on Mike Green of the Washington Capitals.

5-0 game. Koci doesn't slow down one bit, and looks like he knows exactly what he's doing as he delivers a debilitating and illegal hit on an unsuspecting opponent.

If ever there was a clear cut case for a suspension, this is it. I mean, afterall, James Neal got two games for hitting Derek Dorsett from behind.

Not to mention, Koci has more of a checkered past, which is something the NHL takes into account EVERY TIME they review a hit.

Did Koci get suspended?

Well, we'll get to that here in a bit.

Because I have another video I want to show you. Specifically, because this hit looks a lot more like the Neal hit on Dorsett. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators, hitting Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta.

Like Neal's hit on Dorsett, it wasn't really a dirty hit so much as it was a reckless hit on, once again, an unsuspecting player who had no way to defend himself. And the seamless glass in Ottawa probably played as much of a role in the injury to Kaleta as the hit, itself, did. It was, as Brad said about the Neal hit on Dorsett, a 'normal looking hockey play.'

Still, while the NHL never came out and gave a reason behind the suspension of James Neal, it was clear that the league was sending a message that headshots would not be tolerated.

Well, I guess this being a different month, that level of tolerance must have been lowered.

A pair of National Hockey League disciplinary hearings has resulted in fines, but not suspensions.

David Koci of the Colorado Avalanche has been fined for his hit on Washington Capitals defenceman Mike Green, while Ottawa Senators winger Jarkko Ruutu has been fined for his hit on Buffalo Sabres' Patrick Kaleta.

Koci, who averages 3 minutes 7 seconds of ice time per game, lined up Green and delivered a shoulder in between the neck and shoulder blade area of Green's jersey. Green did not see Koci coming and his visor smashed into the seamless glass at Pepsi Center.

Green, who had to be helped off the ice, was knocked woozy and left bleeding above his left eye. 

Koci was assessed five minutes for boarding, five minutes for fighting after being engaged by Green's teammate John Erskine, and a game misconduct.

Ruutu received a game misconduct for boarding Kaleta in the opening minute of the second period of Wednesday's contest. Ruutu drove Kaleta's head into the glass and the Sabres pest needed to be helped off the ice.

For comparison sake, let me repost the video of Neal's hit on Dorsett.

Keep in mind as we go back in our DBD Time Machine that Neal's hit came after the league dropped the ball on Mike Richards' hit on David Booth and Rob Scuderi's rather ill-timed hip check that caused Jason Chimera to go awkwardly into the boards. I couldn't help but think that when Neal's suspension was handed down, it was handed down to quiet the league's critics, including Bob McKenzie, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Keenan, who hopped on their soapbox and castigated Neal's hit.

Laviolette and Keenan weren't on TSN's panel last night with Bob McKenzie. But Keith Jones and Craig MacTavish were alongside the veteran TSN journalist. And to their credit, they all said Koci and Ruutu deserved suspensions for almost the same reasons as to why TSN's panel said Neal deserved a suspension. In Koci's case, Jonesy even suggested that two games weren't enough and that he ought to have been hauled to New York for a face to face meeting with at least a 5 game suspension.

So good on them for showing some consistency.

And also laying the foundation for the next suspension to come down from the NHL. Because if we've learned anything this year, the league will seek to atone for their screwups by suspending the next poor sap who lays a headshot on an unsuspecting player.

And this vicious and frustrating cycle will continue until, as Hockey Joe puts it...

The league can’t make everyone happy here but coming up with some sort of concrete method to the madness regarding dirty play and suspensions for committing offenses like these has to come out of all this.  There have been too many instances where we the fans and I’m sure the players as well are left scratching our collective heads wondering what is going through the head of Colin Campbell when he goes to his smoky back room to come up with some kind of action against offending players.  Every other major sports league has some kind of step-ladder for doling out punishment for breaking the rules like this yet somehow the NHL can’t remove its head from its own ass to create their own.

Since Joe touched on the angle of what other sports leagues do, have you ever noticed how in the NFL, they don't ever fine or suspend a player based on the actions of a particular hit? They literally punish the act itself, irregardless if it results in an injury or not.

Classic examples include hits where a defended leads with the crown of his helmet. Or my favorite, the series of horse collar tackles that Roy Williams got fined for in 2007 before he horse collared Donovan McNabb of the Eagles in Week 15 and was suspended the following week at Carolina.

Sure, they also fine players for stupid crap. Pick any one of the many fines they've handed down to Chad Ochocinco this season. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if they fine him for wearing the jersey of the late Chris Henry to practice.

But I digress.

Point is, you hardly ever hear complaining about a lack of consistency in the NFL's pattern of punishment. That's because they have a level of transparency unlike any other league. Look no further than the fact they make their Director of Officiating available every week on the NFL Network to explain away controversial calls from the prior week's games.

Until the NHL adopts a similar level of transparency, this frustration from fans, players, coaches, and team officials will continue to occur.