NHL falls short with Simon suspension

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What is the proper punishment for using a hockey stick as a weapon and taking a swing at an opposing player's face? According to the National Hockey League, it's an open-ended season ban that will likely amount to a 25-game suspension.

The NHL levied the penalty on New York Islanders forward Chris Simon on Sunday morning after a few days of hearings, apologies and debates regarding Thursday's appalling stick-swinging incident.

In a nutshell, Simon has been suspended for the rest of the regular season and the duration of the playoffs. The exile carries a minimum 25-game ban, meaning that should the Islanders miss the playoffs or get knocked out early then Simon would have to sit out games at the start of next year to complete the suspension. On the other hand, if New York goes deep into the postseason, the ban would be considerably longer than 25 contests.

In fact, the suspension could last 43 games if Simon's Isles play the maximum seven games in each round of the playoffs, but it's still uncertain that New York will even make the postseason. The Islanders come into Sunday's action as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and even the 12th-place Florida Panthers are within seven points of New York.

For those who have not yet seen the infamous encounter, here is a brief recap of what happened. Simon gets laid on his backside courtesy of a legal check by Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers. He then jumps to his feet, notices Hollweg skating back towards him and decides to deliver a ferocious two-handed chop to the Rangers center's chin.

Chris Simon (L) & Ryan Hollweg
Chris Simon has been suspended for the rest of the regular season and the duration of the playoffs after swinging his stick at Ryan Hollweg's face.
Now, it should be noted that Hollweg sustained cuts to his face, but ultimately was not seriously hurt. In fact, he was able to return in time for Saturday's game against in Pittsburgh and played 14 shifts for the Rangers.

To be fair to the NHL, this sanction will be the longest in league history, beating out most notably the 23-game suspension handed to Boston's Marty McSorley for his stick chop to the side of then Vancouver Canuck Donald Brasher's head in February of 2000.

It will also be longer than the 20-game vacation Todd Bertuzzi was given for his attack on Steve Moore of Colorado in March of 2004. Bertuzzi, then a member of the Canucks, delivered a hit from behind and drove Moore face-first into the ice. Moore hasn't played hockey since because of lingering effects of the concussion caused by the hit, and it seems increasingly doubtful that he will ever return.

Presumably, the NHL took into consideration the fact that Simon had been suspended five previous times for various infractions, including a five-game injunction in 1994 for a slash to the head of Dennis Vial of the Ottawa Senators. Hopefully, the NHL didn't give any credence to the trite apology issued by Simon on Saturday.

There is also the fact that Simon suffered a concussion as a result of the Hollweg hit to consider. While I don't dispute the reality of the injury, it is still unclear to me how getting concussed could possibly cause a person to act out in violence. The idea that the head injury would suddenly result in a uncontrollable desire to use one's stick as a cudgel seems ludicrous.

In the Simon case, the NHL had a chance to disregard its disciplinary precedence for violent actions or the amount of physical damage the hit actually caused. If -the league realized that previous suspensions didn't do the job of preventing these type of heinous infractions, then maybe a truly harsh and effective penalty would have been delivered.

Just listen to the words of Colin Campbell, NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations. Campbell said, "The National Hockey League will not accept the use of a stick in the manner and fashion in which Mr. Simon used his Thursday night."

Really? Then how about thinking outside of the box, and instead of simply offering a suspension that only has the potential of being monumental, why not slam Simon with an actual 40-game ban?

There will be plenty of people who will claim that 25 games is a fair penalty and even more who will insist that no length of suspension, whether it be 40 or 100 games, will ever act as a deterrent to Simon's brand of behavior. But, how will we ever know what a truly hard-line sanction will prevent, if one is never actually handed down?

In the long run, Simon's actions will cost him slightly over $80,000 of a $1 million salary and possibly even result in charges being pressed by the Nassau County District Attorney's office. Bertuzzi pled guilty to causing bodily harm for his hit and McSorley was convicted of assault with a weapon, but neither player served any jail time.

Ultimately, the most recent stance taken by the NHL for the ridiculous act of hitting someone in the face with a hockey stick is not soft, but the league is still far from making the punishment fit the crime.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo
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