Byron Bitz suspended two games for hit on Kyle Clifford

Byron Bitz does not like having his picture taken.

There were two contentious incidents on opening night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the first, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber punched Henrik Zetterberg in the back of the head, then went back again, driving Zetterberg’s head into the glass with such force that he cracked the Detroit forward’s helmet. For this, he has been fined $2500. In the second, Canucks’ fourth line winger Byron Bitz hit Kings winger Kyle Clifford from behind, driving his head into the glass.

For this, he’s been suspended 2 games. Here’s sheriff Shanahan, breaking down the first Canuck suspension of the 2011-12 campaign:

Let this be a lesson to you, Bitz. The next time you’re planning to hit a guy in the head, do it the way Weber did it. That’s much more acceptable, apparently.

Now, there’s not much to argue about on this suspension when looked at on its own. As Shanahan explains, Bitz comes from a long distance and there’s plenty of time for him to see Clifford’s numbers and recognize he’s about to enter the danger zone:

“[Clifford] makes no sudden movements just prior to or simultaneous with this hit to dramatically change the position of his head or turn his back to Bitz. The onus is on Bitz to avoid this check completely or at the very least minimize its impact.”

The wording here is important, because Clifford does make a sudden movement; it just doesn’t dramatically change the position of his head. As Bitz approaches, Clifford appears to be in the process of pivoting towards him, which would expose the shoulder for a clean hit and allow Bitz to pin the other shoulder, not the face, against the glass. But Clifford never gets there, instead turning back the other away as Bitz approaches.

It’s unfortunate and unintentional, but Bitz simple just count on a guy exposing his shoulder at the last second when he’s hunting him from the back side, which is about what he said to Jason Botchford. From the Province:

“It was kind of an unfortunate play,” Bitz said. “By the time I had committed to the hit, he had kind of turned a little bit and went into the glass.

“I had no intention of targeting the head or injuring anybody.”

Bitz said he was going to tell Shanahan he didn’t target the head.

“That’s not the way I play,” he said. “The referees made the call and it cost our team a goal. It’s my fault.”

Indeed. And two games makes sense.

But this punishment seems a little lopsided when juxtaposed with what Shea Weber did, a line of rhetoric I have no doubt several Canuck fans will use to cast aspersions on the Bitz suspension.

They shouldn’t. The NHL blew the Weber call, that’s all. It’s completely unrelated to the Bitz incident, which they got right. Be annoyed that Weber will pay off his fine in one shift, but don’t let that annoyance colour your opinion on the Bitz suspension. They have no relation.

Additionally, I’m sure Canuck fans will wonder about how this equates to Shanahan’s sliding suspension scale for the playoffs, as he once said that a game in the Stanley Cup Final is worth 12 regular-season games, in his mind. That’s absurd, but keep in mind that he only said this in reference to the Stanley Cup Final, not the playoffs as a whole. For a first-round series, I’d say it’s about on par. Or maybe, like, two-thirds the length. My guess is that this play gets a three-game suspension in the regular season.

On the bright side for Bitz, because its the playoffs, not only does he get fewer games, he forfeits zero dollars to the NHL Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. He beat the system! Typical moneyball play by the Canucks to put off their suspensions to the playoffs.

Alain Vigneault is now faced with a lineup decision: will it be Dale Weise or Andrew Ebbett for the next two games? You could make a case for both. Weise brings size and grit, but he’s not the possession player Ebbett is, and in a series where the Canucks need to control the puck and start finding success on the powerplay, I’d wager that Ebbett gets the call.

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38 comments

  1. peanutflower
    April 12, 2012

    Yup, Bitz deserved some kind of penalty. Not sure if two games was appropriate. But to compare this to Weber’s penalty it just sure seems like there’s a “list of Shanabans for super stars” and then there’s a “list of Shanabans for everyone else” no? I hate that kind of crap. Oh, and there’s a third list “list of Shanabans for Crosby”. There might actually be a different set of rules for Crosby.

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  2. D to the W
    April 12, 2012

    I love… love… LOVE that your “Danger Zone” link was to Archer and not to Kenny Loggins.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 12, 2012

      You know how I do.

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  3. Zach Morris
    April 12, 2012

    well, at least they got one suspension right.

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  4. D
    April 12, 2012

    Shifting at the last second? That’s a reach. Bitz had plenty of time to line him up.

    Correct call. Onus on the player.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 12, 2012

      As I said, Clifford moves, but not nearly enough for Bitz to get off here. He’s assuming Clifford will come around. You can’t do that.

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  5. Lenny
    April 12, 2012

    Fair suspension. If he doesn’t get suspended AV would scratch him anyways. Just wish it was a more useful player than Clifford.

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  6. akidd
    April 12, 2012

    well summed up article. that’s pretty much it imho.

    not only do the canucks have more playoff experience this year, so do the fans. it takes a bit more to push most to outrage –”what? didn’t even break his back? you call that injustice? yawn.)

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  7. Dave Robinson (@dcrwrites)
    April 12, 2012

    Bitz – correct call. I can see an argument for one game – I can see an argument for three games – two games seems about right. Bitz screwed up, and now he’s got to pay for it.

    Were it not for the Weber fiasco, I don’t think anyone would think anything of it.

    Unfortunately, the Weber incident happened the same night, and that is enough to link the two in some minds. And that linkage is going to create the implication of a double standard because people are going to refuse to consider the two in isolation.

    I personally think that Weber deserved more supplemental discipline than Bitz for one simple reason – Byron Bitz was playing hockey at the time of his incident – Shea Weber was not: the game was over, and ramming a player’s head into the glass after the whistle is NOT a “hockey play gone bad” or even crossing the line. From where I sit, it looked more like assault than hockey.

    I really think the NHL needs to take a long hard look at officiating and supplementary discipline and start both setting and adhering to standards from game one of the pre-season all the way through the last game of the SCF.

    Unfortunately, I can’t see it ever happening.

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    • Wagman
      April 13, 2012

      I agree with you. If you have watched games from other series, you will probably have noticed the refereeing is all over the place. This is the pitfall of the NHL – it appears incapable of consistent officiating and supplementary disciplinary action, especially between the regular season and the playoffs. My opinion is that this stems from head office disagreement on what “game” of hockey the NHL wants to present: old-time hockey, euro-hockey, pre-lockout, fast & skilled, whatever you want to call the different styles. It seems that this season started as fast & skilled, and then the officiating was told to allow marginally more pre-lockout style of play; the playoffs look to be going in different directions, depending on which series you are watching. This makes for frustrated players, team organizations, and fans.

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  8. Chris the Curmudgeon
    April 12, 2012

    Totally agree with your assessment Harrison. Both plays deserved 2 games, and one got it.

    I’d like to see both Ebbett and Weise next game. Scratch Mama Kass, not like that will hurt the team any.

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    • Brent
      April 12, 2012

      I would agree Kassimonster wasn’t really all that effective, let Weise have a try as well as Ebbett. But then neither were Higgins and Phaulson, and they had more minutes. Really surprized though, Higgins was awesome down the streatch. I blame the two women he was seen with during after hours, you always need a scapegoat.

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    • obituary mambo
      April 13, 2012

      You may not intend the nickname “Mama Kass” to be sexist, but it’s hard for me to take it any other way. We know that you hate him; that’s been made abundantly clear time and time again. I’d just like to see you come up with something gender neutral with which to insult him.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        April 13, 2012

        It just sounds right: name similarity, and both are ugly and out of shape. But I can revert to calling him Zack Stojanov if you prefer.

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      • Harrison Mooney
        April 13, 2012

        Nah, we’ve been calling him Mama Kass. It’s just a play on the name; it has nothing to do with sexism.

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        • obituary mambo
          April 13, 2012

          Hmmm… It might have been mixed in with the plethora of nicknames that were thrown out when he first joined the team (in fact, I’m almost sure it was), but it’s not one I’ve seen much since. There’s a chance I’m being hypersensitive, but to me it’s every bit as ugly as calling the twins “sisters” or our opponents in this series the “Queens”. Then again, my twin sister was a Women’s Studies major and she’s always got me worried that I’m not being a proper feminist. This particular nickname just doesn’t sit right with me.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        April 13, 2012

        Well it’s not necessarily meant to be sexist, like Harrison said it’s a play on his name like a whole bunch of other ones and I didn’t make it up. I don’t subscribe to the sexist names for the Sedins nor any other use of female names to be derogatory, regardless of the player or team, but I guess when I think of Cass Elliot (and I realize that it’s a little cruel being that she’s passed away) I picture an overweight and sluggish looking human being, which fits my view of Zack perfectly. Though I’m sure the real Mama Cass had a much nicer singing voice.

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        • obituary mambo
          April 13, 2012

          I’m suddenly dying to hear him warble a tune! Now that would be funny. In fact, I’d love a Canucks sing off. Hansen is almost certain to be the worst (unless, of course, Daniel sings as badly as he draws). The question of who would be the best seems somewhat less set in stone…

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        April 13, 2012

        Given Luongo’s past penchant for poetry, he might be passable in some musical styles (think spoken word, William Shatner-style), but I don’t see him holding a tune. Cory Schneider is pretty well-spoken and has shown a gift for disguising his voice, so perhaps he’d be able to sing a little bit. But most hockey players seem to have really grating voices. Edler probably wouldn’t be able to get a squeak out, I already know that Hansen and Raymond would be atrocious, and I would think a few of the French-Canadian guys would have a hard time singing in English with their accents, but perhaps a bit of Quebecois rap is in order. I’m going to hazard that David Booth could be pretty good, with that perfect hair and tan he looks like he could be a rock star. Too bad we don’t still have Anson Carter, I imagine he would have been pretty musically capable, didn’t he start a record label or something?

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        • obituary mambo
          April 13, 2012

          Funny, I was also leaning toward Shneids (due to his awesome impersonations — that takes some vocal manipulation, which you’d think would serve him well in a sing off). Booth might not be bad, especially if he sticks to his roots and goes country. It’s hard to mess that up too badly, though Lord knows I’ve heard it done (Everitt’s karaoke night, I’m looking at you). I’m suddenly reminded of a ridiculous singing contest between NHLers held b TSN several years ago. Georges Laraque did “Ice Ice Baby” which was… surprising?

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  9. the real bob
    April 12, 2012

    yeah this makes sense:
    -defenseless (he was facing down to play the puck)
    -Bitz had all the time to change direction
    -the onus was on Bitz

    So far this season, Shannahan has only missed 2 suspensions (the one on miller and weber on zetterburg)

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  10. RG
    April 12, 2012

    Ebbett gets the call. He can move up the line-up in case of someone *cough*Raymond*cough* struggling. Weise cannot.

    Plus, Ebbett is always good for an OT goal if it goes that far.

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  11. tj
    April 12, 2012

    I completely agree with what you’ve got here. I even could see a three-game suspension being justified as a ‘warning to all’–Bitz isn’t a major player. Consistency is the biggest problem, as we all know. But here’s a tick: had Weber been penalized, what number of games suspension would it take for the NHL fans and media not to call meddling on the Pitts/Pens series? I’m not saying *at all* Weber shouldn’t have been given a harsher sentence, only that the mythology (or reality, depending on whom you talk to) of NHL favouritism that guaranteed the other discussion, say a warranted minimum 3 game suspension, would have been a series changer.

    I am going to guess that Shanaban decided it was better not to try to be fair here, lest he be called Penguin-arse-kisser later. Had he so deigned Zetter had been hurt (Dr Recchi may have been called), then what? Find out from the docs how long Z’s potentially out and give a similar number of games? If Z’s feeling any pain, you know he’s not going to say anything: it’s the playoffs, and it’s going to take a lot more punch to make him agree to go down for the suspension.

    The whole situation sucks. Something has to be done. I hope the NHLPA can figure it out soon.

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    • tj
      April 12, 2012

      (argh–I should have proofed before posting. I am referring to the Pittsburgh favouritism, in case it’s unclear. fatigue sucks too.)

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      • peanutflower
        April 13, 2012

        well, i’m just sort of confused by this. doesn’t weber play for nashville? or am i missing something?

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        • tj
          April 13, 2012

          yeah. i’m an idiot. i wrote that on three hours’ sleep. nvrmnd…

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          • obituary mambo
            April 13, 2012

            Lol. In that case, I’ll stop trying to make sense of it. I read that first post a couple of times trying to figure out what had happened in the Pens/Flyers game that would have been equivalent to Weber’s attack on Zetterberg. Exhaustion is a fickle mistress.

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            • tj
              April 13, 2012

              Heh, and regardless of its utter nonsense, it was thumbed up twice (I never thumbs-up my own posts :) . Go figure.

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  12. Anonymous
    April 12, 2012

    IA with the suspension and how it’s irrelevant to the Weber shenanigans. I think what Weber did is worse from a player perspective in terms of respect. It’s late and dirty and cheap and a whole nother ball game so I won’t go into it but the fact that the game was over and there was nothing hockey-like/finishing-my-check about it makes it so much worse.

    I think this isn’t too big of a deal for us right now given who it is but we’ll see. Seems like the biggest repercussion from the suspension is that all the crowing about us being not suspended/fined during the regular season is thrown out the window, and people have another thing to hang the ‘DIRTY CANUCKS ARE DIRTY’ mantra on, irregardless that Bitz has barely played for us at all.

    Speaking of CANUCKS ARE DA WORST, how about this new survey report from Macleans?

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/04/12/for-canadians-the-toronto-maple-leafs-are-the-most-hated-team-in-the-nhl/

    But the narrative/MSM told me otherwise! I don’t know what to believe anymore.

    I’d love your take on this, PITB!

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    • the real bob
      April 12, 2012

      somebody should send that to the idiot from the ottawa sun

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  13. Warpstone
    April 12, 2012

    I thought Bitz should have got more games, but I forgot about how the NHL likes to refactor playoff discipline with the great abacus of mitigation (a.k.a. “let them play!”).

    Ebbet please. Weise would be all right, but the Canucks don’t need another big body. They need puck possession and quicker transitions. Ebbet’s not Daniel, but he’s less likely to get sucked into the Kings rope-a-dope scheme than Weise.

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  14. Andre
    April 13, 2012

    What annoys me most is the inconsistency in referee calls. Clearly, the Canucks expected a looser game than what was being called in the first game. But then, they’ll reign in their play, and you can be sure that the refs will stop calling blatant nonsense from the other side. That kind of inconsistency impacts the game tangibly and sours everything because it starts having too much impact on the outcome of the game.

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    • peanutflower
      April 13, 2012

      Maybe the game would have been reffed more loosely, but Kesler ruined it. I love Kesler and will defend my team for practically any transgression, but that was some serious drama. Kesler needs to stop that crap or all of the games will be reffed like that. After publicly stating that he was changing his ways some time back you have to wonder what goes through players’ minds when they pull that kind of stuff. I have no issue with Lapierre talking crap because that’s harmless stuff that actually works, but that full on diving stuff is just really bad. Come on, Kesler, let’s play some hockey!

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      • VanFan85
        April 13, 2012

        Kesler changed his ways alright, he was tired of listening to the coach telling him he had to be grown up and mature so he regressed back to the whiny, crying, cheapshot, yapping 23 year old that he was when he first broke in with the team.

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      • Andre
        April 13, 2012

        I think the issue of inconsistent reffing is separate from that of diving.

        Some games are called on any infraction, whereas other have no infractions called at all. This first playoff game seemed (more-or-less) called by the book, including a liberal interpretation of “intentional delay of game”.

        What irks me is that the team will adjust its playstyle, for instance by toning down player aggression, but there is no guarantee that the next game won’t be called in a completely different manner and that our opponents won’t draw an advantage from it. That element of arbitrariness invariably favours one team over another, regardless of play intensity or skill level.

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  15. Trevor
    April 13, 2012

    Over the past two seasons the NHL has made it pretty clear that they don’t really mind heads being driven into stanchions.

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  16. John Andress
    April 13, 2012

    I agree that the suspension on Bitz was merited and fair. It is sad and dispiriting to think though, that had he the sense to be called Shane Weber instead of Byron Bitz, it would have been a brutal $2500 fine. This knocks Shanahans’s good work and credibility back several notches. I wonder who is giving him his guidelines?

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  17. Neil B
    April 15, 2012

    As regards the Weber non-suspension, the NHL learned way back in 1955 that it cannot win when it suspends a star player. While I doubt that there would be race riots if Shea had to sit out a game or two, the potential repercussions on a small fanbase that the NHL is doing everything possible to nurture could be near-Biblical in proportion. (That said, it would make UFA negotiations interesting: SW- “You’re not doing enough to make this team competitive in the Stanley Cup playoffs.” NAS- We were doing fine until you took an early vacation by putting Zetterberg through the glass.”)

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