Yesterday, NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan delivered a substantial suspension on Blue Jackets James Wisniewski for a hit on Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck. As play expired in regular time, Clutterbuck crossed the blueline and skated towards Wisniewski. Wiz opted to check Clutterbuck high and hard, sending him to the ice in what appeared to be great agony. This was likely a result of the previous altercations between the two players earlier in the game, along with a hit delivered to Fedor Tyutin that Wisniewski clearly did not like.
Wisniewski has been suspended more than once in his NHL career, including a devastating check to his friend and former teammate Brent Seabrook about a season and a half ago. He was also fairly well known for his lewd gesture towards Sean Avery which got him a couple games. It came as no surprise that Shanahan deemed him a repeat offender and threw the book hard at him, although this example setting opportunity will cost the Blue Jackets a very important piece of their roster for about 8% of the regular season.
I have a number of issues with the suspension length, and the play itself. Here are some talking points:
1 - Wisniewski did not initiate contact. By this statement, I mean to say that he did not seek out Clutterbuck in an attempt to retaliate for previous issues. As play had expired, Clutterbuck had a number of options for curling away from the play, but opted to skate directly at Wisniewski. It seemed all too convenient that he would skate directly at him, and I believe it was a form of provocation on Clutterbuck's part. In fact, I would argue that this hit could have and would have been avoided by most players in the NHL, which brings me to my next point..
2 - The history of Clutterbuck. He is a diver, a whiner, a pest, and has been on both ends of the suspension argument before (whether he was the one being suspended, or the one getting drilled which lead to suspension). His on ice antics have given him a reputation and I believe Wisniewski noted that as he skated towards him, fully anticipating a foolish action. This was noted in his post game interview with the Dispatch where he noted that he did not appreciate the hit on Tyutin and believed that Clutterbuck was coming at him with intentions, leading him to protect himself. Also, with the fish out of water flop he does after the hit, yet has shown or reported no signs of actual injury because of the check leads me to believe that he embellished the hit.
3 - The suspension length. While different hits involve different criteria, I do not believe this hit was more violent nor do I believe it was more malicious than the suspension worthy hit (3 games) Minnesota forward Brad Staubitz laid on Columbus' Cody Bass, checking him high and from behind into the boards. While I can understand that Clutterbuck never had the puck, and time had expired, Bass also did not have the puck, having chipped it away well before the hit occurred. It is my opinion that striking a player from behind in that nature is far more dangerous than hitting a player towards or in the head without momentum as the player comes forward. Now, there are most certainly exceptions (such as full stride charges of players checking a player at full speed) but I really do not believe that style of hit was comparable in this scenario.
I do believe Wisniewski deserved around 3-4 games in the regular season. I have watched every single suspension video provided by the league and there seems to be a repetitive use of the phrase "Said play does not put himself in this position immediately prior to the check" which I believe in this case is the fault of Clutterbuck. While I am not overlooking Wisiewski's foolishness for striking Clutterbuck high, I am not ignoring the fact that Clutterbuck is well known for being a pest and I have little doubt that he had intent skating directly at Wisniewski like that.
The Columbus fan base suffers the most here. I am incredibly disappointed about the loss of Wisniewski and the team will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage during the first eight games of the regular season. I can only hope that his insertion back into the lineup will be a smooth transition, and that he does not become a target of the league in this time of 'statement' suspensions. I also hope the league reconsiders the rather lenient suspensions for checks from behind.
Carry the Flag!