The NHL decided to hand a one-game suspension to Anaheim Ducks pest Jarkko Ruutu for delivering a late elbow on Nashville Predators forward Martin Erat, according to Eric Stephens. (You can find video footage of the hit here.)
As manic as the league’s discipline process has been (and, as we’ll discuss soon, as manic as its main disciplinarian may seem), this punishment follows recent trends. The most obvious parallel is the one-game suspension the league handed to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz. Ruutu’s elbow was similar to Kunitz’s elbow on Simon Gagne mainly because both moments were away from the puck and unnecessary.
Ruutu’s infraction might be a bit worse, though, especially since the hit will keep Erat out of a pivotal Game 5. (While it seems wrong that the severity of an injury factors into a suspension verdict, it seems like it does in some cases.)
It’s also a more problematic hit because Ruutu is a player with plenty of ugly moments on his resume. Ruutu was suspended for two games for biting another player on January 7, 2009 and two games on November 12, 2008 for another elbow.
There’s one last reason that hits like Ruutu’s need to be eliminated from the league: he serves little purpose aside from doing this sort of thing. Predators coach Barry Trotz spoke with the Tennessean about the hit and Ruutu’s “role.”
Here are some of Trotz’s comments:
- On the hit: “It was a late hit. The Ducks are whining and complaining that they’re the ones being targeted or whatever. They’ve had guys suspended, late hit, we lose a good player.”
- On Ruutu: “Ruutu doesn’t even dress. He’s a five-minute player for them. And we lose a top player.”
- On trying to replace Erat in the lineup: “It’s just like (the Ducks’) Bobby Ryan. You can’t replace Marty Erat in our lineup.”
In the context of the 2011 playoffs, this judgment seems about right, but I wouldn’t have disagreed with a two-game suspension either. It almost make me wonder if the NHL should follow the example of public high schools by threatening these Matt Cooke-type players with flat-out expulsion in the future.
The NHL doesn’t need to extract all of the physicality out of its game, but they shouldn’t justify the existence of cheap shot artists, either. Whether this verdict was harsh enough or not, I doubt this will change what Ruutu does for a living.