The NHL has suspended Penguins forward James Neal five games for his actions in a 3-2 road loss to the Bruins Saturday. At 11:06 of the first period, Neal struck Bruins forward Brad Marchand's head with his knee and was given a two-minute minor penalty for kneeing.
The NHL's video explaining the suspension:
In the video, NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan said, "While Neal does not kick or violently thrust his leg toward Marchand, it is our belief after reviewing this incident is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player. While looking down directly at Marchand, Neal turns his skates and turns his left leg ensuring contact is made directly with Marchand's head."
Marchand remained in the game and recorded a secondary assist on the eventual game-winning goal by Bruins captain/defenseman Zdeno Chara near the end of regulation.
Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA, this is the maximum length of suspension the league can impose for a player who undergoes a disciplinary hearing over the phone.
This is the third suspension of Neal's career. He was previously suspended one game in the 2012 postseason for a hit against Flyers forward Claude Giroux:
As noted in the first video, Neal is not considered a repeat offender by the terms the CBA. His hit on Giroux occurred April 15, 2012, approximately 20 months ago. Despite that, Shanahan said Neal's history with discipline can not be ignored.
Neal's first suspension occurred in 2009. While with the Dallas Stars, Neal boarded and injured Blue Jackets forward Derek Dorsett:
Neal was suspended two games for this hit.
He has also been fined by the NHL for a slash to Canadiens defenseman PK Subban in 2011.
Neal, 26, has appeared in 16 games this season and has 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists). The first game of his suspension will be served tonight when the Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He will forfeit $128,205.15 of salary as a result of the suspension.
A one-time all-star, Neal did not speak with media following today's morning skate. Following Saturday's game, Neal was asked if he intended to hit Marchand in the head. Neal responded, "I mean, what do you want me to say? That I was trying to hit him? No, I'm going by him. I didn't get out of the way, like I said. I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I'm not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that."
EN Says: We understand the criteria which were outlined in the and video and operating within the parameters of what is permissible under the CBA, we agree with this suspension. Neal has a "clean" history going by the window for a what is considered a "repeat offender." And the lack of an apparent injury for Marchand played a role in how the NHL acted on this. Considering all those factors, this suspension is consistent with how Shanahan's office has operated in the past.
Still, considering the history between these two players and Neal's overall history, not the legalese "official" history within the span of 18 months, this suspension is not enough. We would have gone upwards of eight or nine games.
While it has been a lengthy 20 months between suspensions for Neal, this pattern of play has to be room for concern for Penguins management.
Considering the investment the team has made in him in the form of a six-year, $30 million contract and what he means for this team and the success of franchise center Evgeni Malkin, Penguins management should take steps to eliminate this part of Neal's game much the way it did with former forward Matt Cooke.
After a 17-game suspension for Cooke in 2010-11, Penguins management made it very clear to Cooke that he needed to fix his game. Spending countless hours with coaches in video sessions, Cooke eliminated many of the dangerous plays which marred his career. As a result, Cooke reduced his penalty minute totals by 85 and scored a career-high 19 goals in 2011-12.
The Penguins invested many hours in fixing a third-line role player such as Cooke. They should do the same, if not more, for an all-star core player like Neal.
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)