Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
James Wisniewski of the New York Islanders committed an error in judgment when he taunted New York Ranger lightning rod Sean Avery with an obscene gesture earlier this week.
He should've slashed Avery in the face if he wanted to face a lesser suspension from the NHL.
In its infinite wisdom, the league decided to suspend Wisniewski two games for his gesture just a week after Montreal's Mike Cammalleri was given a one-game ban for slashing Wisniewski's teammate, Nino Niederreiter, in the face during a preseason game.
If you haven't seen the incident, Wisniewski's antics, of course, can currently be viewed on YouTube, where one video of Monday's controversial event has already been watched about 150,000 times. Even though Wisniewski comes off looking childish for his role in the scandal, the fact that Avery, who has made a career out of asinine behavior, was the target adds a level of comedy to all of this.
Of course, Avery knows better than anyone how seriously the NHL takes indiscretions of the (vaguely) sexual variety. In what could possibly be the greatest overreaction in league history, Avery was suspended six games during the 2008-09 season for daring to utter the phrase 'sloppy seconds' when speaking to reporters about then-Calgary Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf's relationship with Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress Elisha Cuthbert.
The Islanders decided to suspend Wisniewski two games for his obscene gesture.
Avery's remarks were hurtful and regrettable, but nearly two years later, the fact that he was banned for six games without even uttering an obscenity still makes me chuckle in disbelief. Even if Avery had used saltier language, the punishment still would've been too severe.
It just doesn't seem right that the league wrings its hands and often gives out soft sentences for violent on-ice hits and sometimes, like in the case of Philadelphia center Mike Richards' blind-side hit on David Booth last year, the NHL misses the mark completely and fails to deliver a suspension of any kind.
Could the NHL possibly fail to understand how bad these errors in judgment make them look? Because, to me it appears that the league clearly takes obscenity seriously, but I'm not as certain how they feel about violent play. It seems that the league is willing to abide an elbow to the head, even if such a dangerous hit could result in ending a player's career or ruin their life, but a gesture imitating a sexual act is simply too much to bear.
And I know it's possible that a child could've heard Avery's comments or seen Wisniewski's gesture, but is that really the end of the world? Would a child even understand what was offensive about either of these instances?
The NHL's inability to put certain offenses into their proper context is further proved by a few other recent examples.
There is the case of the league handing Chicago defenseman Nick Boynton a one- game suspension for using a throat-slashing gesture in an exhibition game last month. So, for those keeping score at home, violent gestures are apparently half as bad as sexual ones according to the discipline experts at the NHL offices.
Even more recently, Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson was given the same sanction as Wisniewski for a hit that will have Buffalo forward Jason Pominville sidelined for the near future, at least. Hjalmarsson hit Pominville from behind and slammed him into the boards, giving the Sabres player a concussion and a cut above his eye. Pominville will almost certainly be gone longer than the two games that Hjalmarsson will miss and the fact that the suspension was the same length as Wisniewski's ban just makes the league appear tone-deaf.
And it's not just the NHL that has been guilty of giving off all the wrong signals when it comes to obscenity. After all, Avery's comments about Phaneuf, caused his career in Dallas to come to an end just months after he signed a four-year, $15 million contract with the club.
It was only after months away from the game and time spent at an anger management program, that Avery was allowed to return to the ice with a new team, the Rangers. To be fair to the Stars, they were probably just looking for any excuse to get rid of Avery, who did not fit in at all in the Dallas locker room, but it still seems absurd that uttering a few off-color words would mean the effective end of a player's career with the club.
I realize some folks were offended by Avery's comments a few years ago and I'm sure there is no shortage of people who were upset about Wisniewski's gesture. However, while most of us are able to find the humor in the so-called obscene situations, there is simply nothing to laugh about when we see a guy sprawled out on the ice after a dangerous hit.
Wisniewski should have been punished for taunting Avery, but why not use a fine instead of a suspension? The Isles defenseman will forfeit $79,000 of his $3.25 million salary during his two-game ban. Wouldn't a $100,000 fine have delivered the same message to Wisniewski?
It should be noted that Wisniewski is considered to be a repeat offender by the NHL and that fact surely played a factor when the league was mulling over his punishment for a gesture the NHL deemed inappropriate. His longest suspension came late last season for a vicious hit on Chicago's Brent Seabrook, who did not even have the puck when he was drilled high and plastered into the boards.
An eight-game suspension for the hit on Seabrook was a fair ruling by the NHL. After all, a person's physical well-being was actually at stake in that instance and not simply the delicate sensibilities of some humorless fuddy- duddy.
The world will recover from Wisniewski's actions and more than likely this incident will disappear into obscurity in a matter of weeks. Hopefully by that time, Pominville, and whoever happens to be the victim of the NHL's next violent hit, have recovered enough to play hockey.