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.Tags: bitz, clifford, comparing two things for no reason, playoffs, shanabans, suspension