In addressing the eight-game suspension the League handed out to Anaheim Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski earlier Thursday, Commissioner Gary Bettman attempted to clear up a couple of possible misconceptions over the latest incident involving a hit to the head.
Speaking on the NHL Hour With Gary Bettman, the Commissioner said Wisniewski's hit on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook during Wednesday night's game was "completely different" from the one delivered by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke earlier this month that left Boston forward Marc Savard with a Grade 2 concussion.
"In that case, unlike some of these others, there was no puck possession, the hitting involved rising up to make contact with the head, and so the circumstances gave rise to being able to punish what we have previously defined -- long before this season -- as illegal acts on the ice," Bettman said.
"And that's why the eight-game suspension."
The Commissioner also pointed out the League has been addressing questionable hits long before the recent attention to head shots led general managers to adopt a new rule proposal targeting blind-side hits at their meetings last week. He pointed to the 20-game suspension then-Flyers forward Steve Downie received for leaving his feet to deliver a hit to the head of then-Senators forward Dean McAmmond during a September 2007 preseason game.
"This is something that, 2 1/2 years ago, we sent out a DVD on," he said. "It's what led to the Downie suspension of 20 games three seasons ago, because when you do a certain series of illegal acts under certain circumstances, we've always punished severely when it warrants it."
In taking calls from listeners to the program, Bettman also defended the judgment of Executive Vice President Colin Campbell after a Rangers fan suggested that if Sean Avery delivered a hit similar to Cooke's that Avery would have received a lengthy suspension based on his reputation.
"As he explains what he's doing to me and the other people in Hockey Operations, there is a consistency and a sound jurisprudential way that he approaches these based on his complete knowledge of what's taking place on the ice, the players who play and everything else," Bettman said.
"The notion that people would have felt good if we just punished Cooke ... the fact of the matter is, we don't make up the rules as we go along. We can't have a fair, competitive environment with integrity if we see something and we say, ‘Well we don't like that so we're going to change the rules in the middle of the game.'"