Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

The David Backes suspension was just another frustrating guessing game

Ty Anderson
March 08, 2018 - 5:35 am

I know for a fact when the National Hockey League’s next lockout will come, but I haven’t a clue how they’ll rule the next suspension-worthy hit. Or what even warrants a suspension in today’s league. A more depressing sentence has not been written on this site. Well, not since Jimmy Hayes stopped playing for the local hockey team, anyway.

But it’s the sad truth, as the NHL’s Department of Player Safety moved swiftly for the first time in their department’s beleaguered history Wednesday when they smacked Bruins forward David Backes with a three-game ban for an interference penalty against Frans Nielsen.

A move that turned out to be a greater leap than the one Backes made to bury Nielsen's jaw into the TD Garden glass, and will stand out as just the most recent misstep in what’s remained a horribly inconsistent department of the NHL.

Now, if we want to sit here and say that Backes did was worth more than the two-minute minor he was assessed on the play, I’m all ears. He undoubtedly clobbered Nielsen’s dome on an unnecessarily high hit, and did it well after Nielsen ditched the puck with an attempted chip out of the defensive zone. It doesn’t help anybody that Nielsen, Detroit’s seventh-highest scoring forward, was injured on the hit. And while Backes finishes this check a dozen times a week and nothing happens, that doesn’t mean he should be let off the hook the one time it injures somebody.

So, again, if the NHL wants to get serious about controlling headshots and views this as a step in that direction, I’m all in.

...But, this comes less than a week after the NHL conveniently stayed quiet when Patric Hornqvist delivered an almost identical hit to Charlie McAvoy. A hit that not only bloodied McAvoy and saw Hornqvist charge from near center ice before delivering the hit just over the B’s blue line, but went unpunished without so much as a penalty called.

And this is the problem.

That ‘problem’ is not about any perceived Anti-Boston slant against the Bruins; the B’s have Brad Marchand on their team and everybody knows former suspension czar Colin Campbell still helps out his son Gregory’s former team (wink, wink, obviously). In other words, I don’t think such a thing truly exists in today’s NHL, much to the chagrin of my desire for shirts featuring Gary Bettman with a red clown nose a la Goodell, of course. The problem is actually that this league’s disciplinary process, of which being involved in is an absolutely thankless job that’s led to near-constant turnover, has somehow gone backwards. It actually feels somehow worse than the mercilessly-mocked Brendan Shanahan era of suspensions and fines, and that we're all going backwards. 

That's because there's just absolutely zero consistency in any regard whatsoever. 

This Backes suspension fits the bill in this regard, too.

Some additional context, because it’s most definitely needed (and will piss you off): Backes is one of 31 active NHL forwards to have logged over 15,000 minutes of time on ice since the start of the 2006-07 season. 15,000! And though he is a veteran to net-front battles and post-whistle scrums, Backes had managed to skate his entire career without any sort of fine or suspension to his name before this ruling.

Such a stat doesn’t mean he’s immune to punishment, I know. But it does tell the story of a (for the most part) clean player, even if he’s hard-nosed and utilized in a physical role.

Marchand’s five-game ban for his elbow to Marcus Johansson earlier this season made sense, and you could make the case that he was lucky to only get five games given his history as a repeat offender. Even the suspension handed down to Bruins winger David Pastrnak for his headshot against Dan Girardi last season, while criticized by then-Bruins coach Claude Julien as being too harsh on a first-time offender, made sense. It was the perfect sort of introductory suspension for a headshot.

And given the larger sample size of clean behavior when comparing Backes to Pastrnak, you could say that a one-game (maybe two-game) ban for Backes would have made the most sense in this scenario.

But it’s instead a three-gamer. And the league actually mentions Backes’ clean rap sheet as a reason for the three-game suspension in their video explanation. So what the hell does that even mean? That this would have been a 10-gamer had Backes had a miscellaneous spearing fine or boarding suspension to his name?

In what world is that a logical jump?

Why in the NHL, of course, where the 'Wheel of Justice' seems to be rolling just fine, even with a new face pushing it along.

The Big Bad Blog is presented by: 

 Technology Decisions Aren't Black and White. Think Red. Click here for more.

Comments ()