By Bill Whitehead
Among all of the sportswriting gigs I get to do — from hockey to preps to pro baseball to college football and many others — the sport that started my career was auto racing, almost exclusively NASCAR. In fact, I’ve covered very few other forms of motorsports than the stock car racing governed by NASCAR.
I got my feet wet in the late 1990s and was fortunate enough to cover the 1998 Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt won an emotional race. I jumped into the deep end in the early 2000s by chronicling about one-third of the schedule, mostly at great Southern tracks like Martinsville, Darlington, Charlotte and Rockingham, plus the Florida venues. Now I sit on the concrete edge with my feet submerged in the water as I’ve scaled back my schedule to include just the Florida races and an occasional one or two more.
After the lack of any form of punishment to Rick Nash after his hit on Tomas Kopecky in Florida’s game against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, I’m convinced the NHL has become quite like NASCAR in the way it metes out its punishment.
If you’re no fan of NASCAR, you’re missing some top-shelf crummy rulings. Most recently, driver Denny Hamlin was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for criticizing its new Generation 6 style car, which it invested a ton of money in producing. In 2007, Kyle Busch won at Bristol in the first race featuring the Car of Tomorrow, was asked his opinion of the car and replied, “It sucks.” Mind you, he said this from Victory Lane, where he should have been happy and not so controversial. The punishment for criticizing the COT car that was spawned by numerous deaths in NASCAR, including Earnhardt, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr.? Nothing. Not a penny, not a point in the standings.
That’s just the very tip of NASCAR’s bad governance — and don’t get me started on its nonsensical, inexplicable use of caution flags. I’m not going to spend more time detailing questionable calls. If you need more proof, just email me or DM me on Twitter. I’m up to about one million examples.
On Friday, NHL Department of Player Safety chief Brendan Shanahan made a terribly bad decision and looked like NASCAR in the process. He let Nash, a top-line superstar in the league, get away with a hit that most in the league would likely have been suspended over. Frustrated as his team struggled against the last-place Florida Panthers, Nash left his feet to come across and hit winger Kopecky in the back of his head with his left elbow. Shanahan told Nash it was “a rotten hit” but also said he didn’t think the hit was to the head.
Decide for yourself:
Right now while watching this Washington-Winnipeg game, I can’t help but think of Patrice Cormier’s hard-hitting (and cheap-shotting) history as his name is mentioned by the Jets’ announcers. The hit below in January of 2010 resulted in Cormier being suspended for the remainder of the season and post-season while playing for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies:
What would that hit warrant in Shanahan’s NHL today? Likely, the answer would depend on who did the hitting. Top line player or fourth line grinder? Respectively speaking, I’d expect that number to be ridiculously low to relatively high. The Nash hit is exactly what the league is trying to get away from, and frankly, it was probably at least equal to or maybe worse than Joffrey Lupul’s on Victor Hedman the night before in Toronto. And if the situation had been reversed and Kopecky had leveled the high-paid Nash, No. 82 would have been gone for a few games at least.
If someone can explain the decisions on what warrants a suspension and what doesn’t, please let me and the rest of guys know. — Joffrey Lupul on Twitter Friday night
Lupul doesn’t know. The players in general don’t know. Coaches don’t know. Fans don’t know.
Just like with NASCAR, it’s starting to look like Shanahan doesn’t know.