By Allan Muir
The NHL sent a strong and clear message with the five-game suspension handed to Colorado forward Cody McLeod this afternoon: hits from behind won't be tolerated.
Blindside head shots though? Eh, not so bad . . . at least, if you're a first-time offender.
That's the takeaway from the two-game sentence handed to New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner on Monday evening.
Grabner was collared for an elbow to the head of Carolina's Nathan Gerbe on Saturday night that, honestly, was probably the easiest call Brendan Shanahan's had to make all year. Gerbe was steaming toward the New York net when Grabner left his man skated about five strides -- past another Islander defender! -- and blasted him in the head, sending Gerbe pinwheeling to the ice.
"This is not a full body check," Shanahan said, choosing not to belabor the obvious. "The head is the main point of contact. And such contact is avoidable."
Short and sweet, reflective of how clear cut this incident was. Unfortunately, though, the punishment was another one of those wag-of-the-finger two gamers that no doubt weighed the lack of serious injury and Grabner's previously clean record over, you know, the fact that he nearly knocked Gerbe into next Tuesday with a really cheap shot to the head.
Look, I get it. Grabner's universally regarded as a clean player -- his career high is 12 penalty minutes -- so he's going to get the benefit of the doubt. Taken on its own merits, it's a result that was to be expected. But coming on the heels of the McLeod sentence, it's hard not to wonder why a violation that everyone wants to see removed from the game is treated so lightly, first offense or not.