Following an in-person hearing in New York City this morning, Maxim Lapierre was dealt a five-game suspension by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for boarding Dan Boyle on Tuesday night. Here's the suspension video:
For some reason, Brendan Shanahan sees it as incredibly relevant that Boyle catches his right skate on the kickplate at the bottom of the boards, thereby increasing his vulnerability. It does seem likely that this happened, and it's been pointed out in the days since the incident, but I can't fully understand why it was even taken into consideration here. It's symptomatic of a league that suspends on result rather than intent; regardless of whether Boyle was off-balance, the fact remains that Lapierre saw nothing but numbers yet lined Boyle up for the hit and finished him through the dasher anyway. To his credit, Shanahan emphasizes this when doling out the final decision but Boyle's stumble doesn't seem pertinent to this particular discussion at all in my mind and hopefully didn't lead to a reduced sentence for Lapierre.
Then again, whether or not this is a sufficient suspension (I don't think it is but since Lapierre isn't technically a repeat offender, I can sort of understand the thought process) seems somewhat irrelevant. Lapierre is useless. St. Louis isn't going to remotely miss him on the ice, whether it's for five games or ten. Players like Lapierre and Patrick Kaleta and Matt Cooke (and, yes, Raffi Torres although at least there's some skill there) aren't in this league because of their talent level; they remain employed because they fulfill a specific purpose and taking a five-game paycut here and there is just part of their job. In his terrific piece this morning, Mike Chen wrote about the inadequacy of typical suspensions as a deterrent for these types of players:
As for players who haven't hit that come-to-Jeebus moment yet, what's it going to take? Will a game misconduct really make a difference to Patrick Kaleta? What about a ten-game suspension? I'm guessing no, and if you look at what drove Cooke and Torres to honestly look at themselves, it started with a more extreme suspension (Cooke's was 10 regular season games and the first round of the playoffs, which going by the double-value-for-playoffs multiplier, was a total of 24 games; Torres got 25 before he actively began to rethink his game). That was followed by coaching rehab (Cooke worked with Dan Bylsma, Torres with Tippett). For players that consistently show that they're thinking the game the wrong way, perhaps 20 games is the starting point to get a message through.
Maybe it's a radical suggestion, but I strongly believe there should be a significant financial disincentive for teams to employ these players. Owners and even GMs should be slapped with substantial fines when a player of theirs gets suspended with the cost increasing considerably for each repeat offense by a particular player. If that system disadvantages small-market teams, perhaps salary cap penalties should be implemented as well. If we're serious about drumming these types of players (as well as these types of plays) out of the league, I can't really see any other option than hitting the teams that continue to employ them where it really counts.