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Lawless & Order: Hammer Him!

Shanahan should give Scott at least 10 games for his headshot on Eriksson

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An eye for an eye and a head for a headshot. That's what Brendan Shanahan should be thinking -- but it won't happen. The entire NHL will be watching the John Scott affair to see what kind of message Shanahan sends, but calls for Scott's head on a platter will go unanswered.

The Buffalo Sabres enforcer is on the carpet for his high hit on Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson. He steamed across the ice and hit Eriksson with a shoulder to the head well after the puck was gone. It was a bad hit, the kind the NHL wants out of its game.

Scott should get 10 games or more. But he won't.

An unwillingness to mete out a truly deterring penalty for a first-time offender will prevent Shanahan from giving Scott more than five games. When all is said and done, it's likely he'll get three.

The NHL's director of safety has to keep in mind that whatever ban Scott receives will be used for comparison when the next first-timer is in his office for a check to the head.

Has anyone noticed the way Alex Ovechkin plays the game? It's no stretch to imagine the game's best scorer being penalized under the NHL's Rule 48, which prohibits checks to the head.

Slap Scott with a 10-gamer and the next first-time perp will have to get similar punishment -- be it Ovechkin, Shane Doan or Evander Kane.

Some might argue that's not a bad thing. But can you imagine the noise out of the GMs if they lost their star player for 10 games?

This is an opportunity to use a suspension as a deterrent. But the NHL likely isn't ready to make such a step. Not yet.

In the heat of the moment last week, immediately following Scott's check on Eriksson, I tweeted it should be minimum of 10 games and I wouldn't have trouble with 15. I'm still good with those numbers. But it's not likely to become reality.

Consider the message a 10-game ban for Scott would send. The trend now is against one-game bans for a check to the head. The argument for a two-gamer most often falls on deaf ears. Three games has become the standard for a first-time check to the head.

But 10 games for a first-time offender? That would get everyone's attention.

Rule 48, three years old now, has not been effective in stopping checks to the head.

There are still too many.

Shanahan has handed out 14 suspensions in this season and the pre-season. Five have been for checks to the head. The longest was a 10 games to repeat offender Patrick Kaleta and the shortest a two-game to first-time offender Michael Grabner.

Scott may or may not be the terrible scourge on the NHL many are claiming he is, but Shanahan, under the current suspension precedent, will deal with the incident according to the evidence in front of him. Or he can elect to up the ante with a lengthy suspension for a first-time offender and send a message to the entire league: Hits to the head will be taken seriously and dealt with severely.

Criticism of Shanahan and his work this season has been fairly muted. NHL managers know commissioner Gary Bettman is standing behind Shanahan and will support his decisions.

GMs support players in hearings and defend their actions in the media but backroom talk is they aren't displeased with the way Shanahan is handling things. Competition leads to GMs saying things in-season that run opposite to views expressed in the off-season when everyone is cooled off and thinking about what's best for the game.

The NHL doesn't work in a vacuum. Officials are keenly aware of the issues faced by the NFL on the subject of hits to the head and concussions.

Shanahan's work right now is of utmost importance. The NHL will no doubt be facing a crisis where headshots are concerned and any progress made in player safety that can improve the league's record in this area has to be welcomed.

Sure, we all want hitting in the game. But science and medicine are changing the landscape. Shanahan must react.

Giving John Scott a long suspension won't be a cure-all. But it would be another step in the right direction.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Chevy says...

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff joined the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Monday afternoon. Here are some highlights.

On the team's start: "Lots of different emotions. Some on the high side and some on the low side. If you sit back and analyze each game, which we tend to do and redo and redo again, there were some opportunities for a point here or there that hopefully we can gain later on. Some bright spots like the play of Jacob Trouba and some not so bright spots like the injury to Jacob Trouba."

Mark Scheifele's development: "Mark's play has been very typical of a young player. There have been flashes where you think, 'man, this is going to be great,' and you think it's going to continue on. But as we've talked about many times, there are going to be ups and downs. That's part of the learning process. When you do see the glimpses of the ups, you know what is there. But this isn't an easy league to earn opportunities to develop because it's a win-at-all-times atmosphere... Mark has had some really good games and some games where he hasn't been on the high side... At this time it's (sending Scheifele down) not something I've contemplated."

On his team's inconsistency: "There are probably multiple theories. I attribute some of it to guys pressing too hard. You could attribute it to many different things... There are wild inconsistencies that go on with the best players in the world. It's about smoothing them out and understanding why you're spotty."

The power play: Special teams are a concern. It's something that last year was a nemesis of ours and something we've had lots of internal discussions on both from a coaching perspective and a player perspective... Scoring in this league is something that is difficult and we'd like to see the power play become a positive as opposed to where it's at right now."

The team's battle level: "It's everybody's responsibility. The NHL is a professional league and the best in the world. The privilege is something you can't take lightly. There is a price to be paid to win. The players have to pay it, the coaches have to pay it and management has to pay it."

Quick hitters

WHICH ALEX? -- Alex Steen and Alex Ovechkin went into Monday night's action tied for the league lead with 10 goals. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Steen is the first NHL player to record 10 or more goals in his team's first nine games of a season since 2006-07, when Buffalo's Chris Drury and Atlanta's Marian Hossa turned the trick. Ovechkin needed 10 games to reach 10 goals.

"It's only nine games," said Steen. "(Ovechkin's) been doing it for years. I've been doing it for nine games."

BOON -- The Leafs acquired centre Dave Bolland from the Chicago Blackhawks for second- and fourth-round picks in this year's draft and a fourth-round pick next year. Bolland has been brilliant in Toronto, fulfilling a two-way role while collecting six goals and four assists in 12 games. Bolland has become one of Randy Carlyle's go-to guys and has the coach's trust. Great pickup by GM Dave Nonis.

BUST -- The Nashville Predators signed Viktor Stalberg to a four-year, $12-million contract after watching him help Chicago win the Stanley Cup. Nashville's offence tied for fewest goals averaged per game last season and they wanted Stalberg for a boost, but he's been either hurt or ineffective with zero points through six games.

WHAT'S BEEN GOOD -- We asked the NHL what they've liked so far this season and here's what deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to say:

"New divisional alignment. Clubs (particularly the Western Conference clubs) all love seeing every other club at least once in their own building. Also, seems to be creating interesting new races for playoff spots. Going to love to see how it all plays out, but I'm very bullish and pleased with the realignment."

WHAT'S BEEN BAD -- NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan seems to be constantly involved in a hearing and subsequent suspension. "We've had comparable stretches in the middle of a season that have lasted for two or three weeks," Shanahan told the Free Press. "This is different because it comes at the start of a season. We want to make sure it's not a season-long pattern."

ARMCHAIR GM -- Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier shipped veteran forward Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders on Sunday, getting forward Matt Moulson in return, as well as a 2014 first-round pick and 2015 second-round pick.

Does Vanek make the Islanders better? We'll see, but the price New York GM Garth Snow paid was exorbitant. Vanek is a UFA at the end of this season so in essence this is a long-term rental. A one-season lease, if you will.

Prior to Monday's action, the Isles sat third in the Metropolitan Division and were in the playoff picture.

Vanek has 110 goals from the 2009-10 season forward. Moulson has 118 in that stretch. Vanek has a rep for being a bit of a coach killer. Moulson had great chemistry with John Tavares.

Maybe Vanek takes the Islanders over the top and they get to the conference final or better. Or maybe Snow just burned a number of valuable assets.

OLY WATCH -- San Jose Sharks centre Logan Couture has six goals and eight assists with a plus-eight ranking. Couture has developed into one of the league's best two-way players. With speed, vision on the ice and an understanding of the game at both ends -- he's certainly got Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman's attention.

AWARDS WATCH -- The Jack Adams Award. Three-way race between Bruce Boudreau, Todd McLellan and Patrick Roy right now. If we're handing out the award tomorrow, it goes to Roy, who has overseen an amazing transformation in Colorado.

IF I COULD -- Given the chance to sign any player in the NHL this week regardless of age or contract status, I'd have to say Predators defenceman Shea Weber. The combination of power, smarts and mean streak make him a great place to start a franchise.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2013 C3

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