The 2012 NHL playoffs have been fun to watch, thus far, and figure to get better as they continue. Only 28 games have been played and the storylines are plentiful. One that overshadows the Stanley Cup favorites struggling or the new lengths that the Penguins have Flyers have taken their rivalry to is the amount of suspensions we've already seen.
Throughout recent years, the NHL has been under the microscope while trying to ban vicious and/or illegal hits. Concussions have been a hot topic this season as some of the game's top stars have missed significant time due to concussion-like symptoms; Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Daniel Sedin are just a few examples. In charge of regulating the punishment is the NHL VP of Player Safety, and main disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan.
Since these playoffs have started, Shanahan has handed down 16 games worth of suspensions to eight players all for illegal hits. Here's a list of the suspensions (before play on 4/19/12):
Vancouver Canucks F Byron Bitz: one game for boarding LA Kings F Kyle Clifford.
New York Rangers F Carl Hagelin: three games for elbowing Ottawa Senators Captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Senators D Matt Carkner: one game for being the aggressor to an unwilling opponent (Rangers F Brian Boyle).
Chicago Blackhawks F Andrew Shaw: three games for charging Phoenix Coyotes G Mike Smith.
Pittsburgh Penguins F James Neal: one game for charging Philadelphia Flyers F Claude Giroux.
Penguins F Arron Asham: four games for cross-checking Flyers F Brayden Schenn.
Penguins F Craig Adams: one game for instigating a fight with Flyers F Scott Hartnell.
Washington Capitals F Nicklas Backstrom: one game for cross-checking Boston Bruins F Rich Peverley.
One name that you didn't read but are sure to already know about is Coyotes F Raffi Torres. Tuesday night, he landed one of the most brutal hits of these playoffs when he sent Blackhawks F Marian Hossa off the ice on a stretcher to the local hospital for testing and observation.. Hossa was conscious as he left the arena and was released from the hospital later that night. Torres was not penalized on the play and it may be a while before he sees the ice again as he has been suspended indefinitely pending a face-to-face hearing with Shanahan on Friday. Torres is considered a repeat offender and is expected to receive at least a five game ban.
Another name missing from the list of suspensions is that of Nashville Predators Captain Shea Weber. At the end of their first game with the Detroit Red Wings, Weber pulled a move out of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) playbook as he "turnbuckled" Wings F Henrik Zetterberg into the glass. No penalty was assessed to Weber and he only received a fine of $2500.
It's hard to find consistency in the suspensions (or lack thereof) that Shanahan has been issuing during the playoffs.
The refereeing has been another issue. During the regular season, the 16 teams that made the playoffs combined for 14,818 PIM (penalties in minutes), averaging 11.29 PIM/game. So far, after 28 first round playoff games, the same 16 teams have served 1006 PIM which is good for an astonishing 35.93 PIM/game. At that rate, over the course of an 82-game season, these teams would combine for a whopping 47140 PIM, a 318% increase. Game three of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia series featured 158 combined PIM.
These numbers reflect only the penalties that have been assessed, and not including all of the potential calls that have been missed. During the playoffs, the speed of the game and the intensity tends to pick up, but that shouldn't be used as an excuse for poor officiating.
The 2011 Stanley Cups playoffs featured seven suspensions; this year there's already been eight and counting. The deeper these series go, the more physical they will get.
I expect we haven't heard the last from Brendan Shanahan during these playoffs.
Steve Peters is a staff writer for NHLFanchat.com. Follow on twitter: @stevepeters_ @nhlfanchat