You see them in every fan base, those wearing rose-tinted glasses that cry out: “That other team is so dirty!” It’s another thing entirely when fans routinely say that about the LEAGUE.

The NHL Department of Player Safety (DoPS – pronounced DOPES) indeed is a department dealing with NHL players – but don’t be fooled by that “safety” part.  That’s just for show.

letangLast night, Ryan Callahan of the Tampa Bay Lightning saw his target – the numbers 5 and 8 – and “finished his check,” as the parlance goes. He had time and space, saw what he was hitting, and followed through with a forearm shiver to the back of Letang’s head and into the glass.

As someone who loves the graceful violence of the sport, normally I’d be all for a good crunch separating foe from puck.

This was most certainly not that.

So you know exactly what I’m talking about, if you haven’t already seen the incriminating evidence, here are Exhibits A and B:

The Department of Player “Safety” looked into their crystal ball and the DoPS found:

  • Letang left… but returned! (despite having a history of concussions)
  • Callahan received 5 minutes in-game, but no match penalty (in opposition to rule 41.5)

Since no match penalty was issued and Letang was seemingly OK, of course the NHL would sit on their hands.

In terms of “sports medicine,” the medicine is taking a back seat.

Discipline vs Justice

When it comes to safety, the league’s job is to enforce the rules. The rules are there for a reason, afterall. That includes sanctioning those who break them, which is called discipline.

While discipline is well within the league’s purview, one thing they cannot do (no matter what they do) is mete out justice.

Justice is something only the players can affect, and I’m not talking about fighting (that’s called vengeance and it can be delicious). No, justice is served when the offending team is made to pay through goals scored against them. If you miss out on those chances, you simply let them get away with whatever it was.

The Pens deserved more of an opportunity to serve justice. The league did not properly enforce its own rules, and therefore did not provide proper discipline. The DoPS raised our hopes when they rightfully suspended Brooks Orpik after his dirty hit on Olli Maatta. They then suspended Letang a game later for his late hit, and we understood the league was hammering home the precedent with its rolled up newspaper.

So much for that.

So Much For That