Robert Bortuzzo of the St. Louis Blues was fined $3091.40 for his cross check to the back of New York Islander Brock Nelson. Like in most of the safety incidents from the NHL, reaction to the punishment dished out by the NHL Department of player Safety falls into three main categories: It’s too little, it’s too much, or it’s just right. In this case, it’s possible for it to be all three and still be the best decision by the Department.
First of all, let’s talk about the incident. If you look at the cross checks themselves you can judge on that, but if you take into context why things happen sometimes that sways opinion on whether they were “that bad”. Let’s make no mistake here. Brock Nelson innocently collided with Magnus Paajarvi and Bortuzzo reacted like a little child. End of story.
With that out of the way, Bortuzzo definitely deserved some sort of punishment. The first cross check to knock Nelson down was stupid but not that big a problem. It’ the extra two to the back well after the fact, with Nelson blindly facedown and defenceless. These are what correctly draws the supplemental discipline.
Deciding between a suspension and a fine is the real choice, and I think they made a good one. The cross checks themselves really weren’t that bad. They were pointless and gutless, but they weren’t horrifically dangerous in the way they were delivered. They were “safely” to the body, not the head, and they weren’t an obvious intent to injure. It’s not the details of the act itself that make this bad. It’s the perception that the idea of making cross checking be your go to response is acceptable that’s the big issue. So you send out a fine as more of a message to everyone that, hey, this one wasn’t so bad, but we’re putting you on notice that we aren’t ok with this.
This brings us to the starting point. The fine may be considered “too much” to some who thought this was just a hockey play. Like I said, it kind of wasn’t that bad overall. It’s just the vibe of it. But in the spirit of setting a precedent, I’d be ok with it even if I was in the camp where I thought any form of discipline was “too much”.
So is $3091.40 “too little” to actually send a message? I don’t think so for one reason only: it’s the maximum allowable amount under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
This is agreed to by the NHLPA. The players signed this deal, and the Department has to honor it. They’ve dished out as much punishment as they’re legally allowed to, and that has to mean something no matter how small that amount is.
That’s why even though this is both too much and too little, it’s also just right.