Max Lapierre had a choice to make as he was bearing down on Dan Boyle the other night. That he made the wrong one was pretty obvious to anyone who saw the St. Louis forward hammer Boyle from behind, driving his jaw into the lip of the boards and leaving the former All-Star unconscious on the ice.
The cheap shot earned Lapierre a five-game suspension from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan tonight.
Fair? Let's just say it was in the right ballpark, although there was an opportunity to send a stronger message of intolerance.
"There are many things to consider on this play," said Shanahan in the video that accompanied the announcement. "It's undeniable that Boyle's loss of balance just prior to the contact made him much more vulnerable and contributed to the violent result. However, at no point does Lapierre see anything other than Boyle's numbers, when he decides to finish him on this check.
"The fact remains: If Lapierre doesn’t illegally hit him in the numbers, Boyle’s face does not crash violently into the boards."
I'm not sure I buy Shanny's "many things to consider" qualifier, unless by many he meant two: Lapierre targeted Boyle when all he could see was his numbers, and it's stinkin' Max Lapierre, a man who has routinely displayed a lack of respect for his fellow players.
And maybe a third: he didn't want to trigger the right to appeal that comes with a suspension of six games or more.
Honestly, even if Shanny didn't find it to be "an overly violent check," this was exactly the sort of play that the league should be aiming to crush from existence with a harsh sentence...even if it means factoring in the possibility of some wrangling down the line.
Because despite Shanahan's prefacing remarks, this wasn't some unfortunate circumstance arising from a slip by Boyle or a split-second decision made by Lapierre. This wasn't a hockey play gone wrong. This was a predator lining up his prey from 40 feet away and never considering pulling up even though it was clear from the moment he spotted his victim that there was no legal hit to be made.