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Hathaway suspension fair, but NHL justice system far from perfect

Hathaway suspension fair, but NHL justice system far from perfect

The NHL wheel of justice spun Wednesday and landed on a three-game suspension for Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway.

To call it bad timing is an understatement. Hathaway spit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson at the tail end of a brawl in the final minute of the second period against the Anaheim Ducks Monday night.

Hathaway can’t play tonight against the New York Rangers. He will miss Saturday’s home game against Vancouver and next Wednesday’s road game against Florida. He will forfeit $24,193.53 of salary. His $1.5 million cap hit will remain on the books at a time when every dollar counts for the injured, cash-strapped Capitals.

It was a harsh penalty, one with little precedent in the NHL. It was also the right call. Spitting in someone’s face is gross. It’s wrong. On the streets of D.C. it could get you arrested for simple assault depending on the circumstances. Think that’s hyperbole? Go try it this weekend. See what happens when you get in an altercation and hock a loogie. I’m sure MPD will understand.

No one is arguing Hathaway head to a local police precinct for booking. If that were the case we’d have jails full of NHL players for post-scrum shenanigans. There’s a better way to stop that nonsense anyway: Supplemental discipline. That’s what happened here.

Hathaway accepted responsibility – even though he’d been sucker punched by Gudbranson while referee Peter MacDougall held the two menapart. His head snapped back. He was rightly furious.

It was a garbage play by Gudbranson, who had a hand free and took a shot. He was lucky to get away with a 10-minute misconduct. It should have been more. But you can’t spit in his face. Sorry. Hathaway himself said “it has no place” in the sport.

To his credit, Hathaway immediately talked with reporters after the Anaheim game and took responsibility, apologized. He’s a hard, respected player with no real disciplinary track record. He even addressed it all again at practice on Tuesday. That’s accountability to yourself and your teammates. It was admirable.

There’s no question Hathaway thinks Gudbranson is full of it for whining about getting spit upon given his cheap shot. There was an edge to Hathaway’s voice when he talked about the play, but that’s as far as he would go. No excuses. Not in public. Because you can’t spit on people.

Critics angry at an NHL disciplinary process rife with inconsistencies will harp on precedence. They have a legitimate point. Head shots go unpunished for one player, another gets the book thrown at him. Players are kneed, slashed, punched, slew-footed, boarded, charged and it’s a total guess sometimes how the Department of Player Safety comes to its decisions – even with videos giving narrated explanations. Sometimes it does feel like they write suspensions on a piece of paper, fold it up and spin the drum.

Capitals fans remember all too well Sidney Crosby spitting at Evgeny Kuznetsov in Game 3 of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoff series with the Penguins. It was a disgusting act deserving of punishment if you were wearing red and an eye roll if you were wearing black and gold.

But that’s mostly because for a day there it felt like we were in the Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld (“Back and to the left!” “That is ONE magic loogie!”). The NHL took a hard pass on suspending its marquee star during one of the biggest playoff series in years.

This might have been morally wrong. It might have been a double standard. But if you have to break down a spitting incident like it’s the Zapruder film, you can probably just boo Crosby super loud next time he’s on the ice and move on. That’s basically what happened.

Meanwhile, Boston Bruins face licking specialist Brad Machand spent the better part of 2018 wiping his tongue across unsuspecting opponents to draw a retaliatory penalty because he’s a total lunatic. Why didn’t he get suspended?

Great point. He should have been. Let’s all go jump into the DeLorean and get him five games (Marchand was a repeat licker) for slurping Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, who rightly argued there was no difference between that behavior and spitting.

That all happened during a 2018 Stanley Cup playoff series, too, so maybe the league was just reluctant to take out star players before an elimination game. Well, the NHL got that one wrong for sure. It finally told Marchand to stop…or else. But there were no real consequences.

Hathaway is probably paying the price for that warning now and it isn’t fair. He’s the one without a track record. He’s the one punched in the face. But when you spit, you lose the moral high ground. Is that harsh? Sure.

A two-game suspension seemed right and I doubt the Ducks would have kicked up much fuss over one. Bu if you’re arguing for nothing, or a simple fine, you’re a fan going full fanatic. Hockey discipline is sometimes a cruel joke. The over-the-top reactions to those decisions are also comically tribal. Both those things can be true. Hathaway and the Capitals will be fine. The next spitting incident just better match this punishment.


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John Carlson's six-point week nets him the NHL's first star

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John Carlson's six-point week nets him the NHL's first star

After a sterling week with three goals and three assists in three games, John Carlson was named the NHL's first star for the week of December 2-8.

This isn't the first time this season the NHL has honored Carlson for his stellar efforts. He was named the NHL's first star in October and was the second star of the week for the week of October 14-20.

Two of Carlson's three goals last week were game-winners, and the week included his sixth three-point performance this season.

Carlson currently tops the league's defensemen in goals (11), assists (32), points (43) and game-winning goals (4) through 31 outings this season.

He is also the only Caps player on pace for a 100+ point season.

And that pace is historic. The only two defensemen in NHL history that have recorded as many points through their team’s first 31 games of a campaign are Bobby Orr (5x, most recently in 1974-75: 21-37—58 w/ BOS) and Al MacInnis (1990-91: 13-31—44 w/ CGY).


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Alex Ovechkin saddened by WADA banning Russia from the 2022 Olympic

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Alex Ovechkin saddened by WADA banning Russia from the 2022 Olympic

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin's hopes of representing Russia in the 2022 Olympics may already be dashed, not by the NHL, but by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The WADA executive committee handed down a four-year ban to the Russia on Monday, barring the country from competing in all major sporting events subject to the World Anti-Doping Code including the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

Olympic participation is a major sticking point between the NHL and players and the NHL did not allow players to take part in the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Now it appears that even if the players are allowed to go to Beijing, Ovechkin will not be able to fully represent his native country.

“I just heard it today," Ovechkin said. "Obviously, it’s sad news but I think I’m gonna have more information later. It’s bad. I feel bad for people working so hard for this moment and they can’t be there. I just hear it right before practice, so I don’t have much information on it.”

Russia was also banned in 2018, but its athletes were still allowed to compete. They represented a neutral flag and were referred to as the Olympic  Athletes from Russia.

While Ovechkin was certainly disappointed by the news of the ban, he sounded hopeful that there would still be an avenue for him to compete if in fact NHL players would be allowed to go.

"It’s always disappointing to hear something like that," Ovechkin said. "I hope everything’s going to be well. We still have a long time ‘til the Olympics to figure out what to do. What’s better to do. Hope everything’s going to be fine.”

Without any NHL participation, the Olympic Athletes entered the 2018 Olympics favored and did, in fact, take home the gold. Ovechkin said his excitement for cheering on his home nation was not dampened by the fact that they were not able to wear a Russian jersey or represent the Russian flag.

“To be honest with you I just looked at the scores and cheered for our guys," he said. "I didn’t pay too much attention [to] it. I was just happy for our guys scoring goals.”