January 09, 2012

Salo Lost in Suspension Bickering

The low-bridge hit in Saturday morning’s game was less about Marchand than it was about Salo.

The 37-year-old Canucks defenseman suffered a concussion after a questionable hip check by Boston winger Brad Marchand, although it is doubtful that was the only upper body injury he sustained. Sami Salo seemed also to be favouring his left should while being followed off the ice by trainer Mike Burnstein.

The hit happened as a loose puck was drifting up the boards in the Boston end. Salo pinched from the blue line to race Marchand for possession. Marchand reached the puck first, motioned as if to clear the zone, and then out of nowhere dropped to take Salo’s knees from underneath him.

Most would agree that it was a dirty hit, the real debate being to what degree. NHL Head Disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan weighed in with a five-game suspension for Marchand. Excessive, as is nearly all supplementary discipline this season, but relative to Shanahan’s standards, five makes sense.

Of course, Vancouver fans will lobby for more, while the Bruins base will wonder why this “clean” hit was even penalized, and some keeners will go to the usual lengths of comparing similar plays from the past, which are not really similar at all. No matter what Shanny does, no one will be happy.

However, the focus of this entire incident has been on the offender, not the victim. The blow to Salo hurts more than his shoulder. It has been nearly eight years since he last played greater than 70 games in a regular season. Halfway through this campaign, he had only missed four games.

It finally seemed that luck was going his way. Then his new-found health was dashed by a cheap shot, and the normally even-keel Salo suddenly burst into frustration, tossing his stick into the glass, refusing to be helped off the ice. Realizing Salo was hurt yet again, many watching in their living rooms did the same to their remotes.

You can’t help but feel for the guy. He is the epitome of blue-collar. With his slap shot power diminishing, he has worked hard to improve his defensive game. His contributions in his own end have quietly been priceless for the Vancouver Canucks, as shown by the highly publicized statistics concerning their play without Salo in the lineup. In this year’s version, they are 1-4 when he is injured.

He is nothing but class, always taking the high road, a behavior fast disappearing in the Canucks organization. You can bet the farm Sami Salo will not be bashing Marchand in the press.

Unfortunately, the story of Salo’s career has been one of bad things happening to a good person. From the legendary snake-bite in his native Finland, to the endless list of injuries he has endured, he has had to put up with more trouble than anybody deserves much less a man of Salo’s character. And that’s before the Brad Marchand incident.

Naturally, his struggle will be simply subtext to the jawing by both clubs’ management (and some players, too.) One can only hope than maturity will somehow set in, and these men will realize that it’s not about Alain, or Claude. Not Alex, or Brad, or Maxim. It’s about Sami, and it’s about respect.

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